19 Jun 2022

The Peripheral


The Peripheral, William Gibson (x2)

Second time.

After reading Agency (twice in a row), I had to remind myself where this universe started.

Something I'm learning about the dimensionality of reading books twice, like as if each reading takes you along a different axis.

Is Gibson just the most genius writer of our time? How does the man evoke such subtle, and such intense relationships, while ostensibly dwelling in geek-tech fiction? And also - I would like to focus on this for a second - such thrilling action?

"Take that apart," Daedra said, apparently to the two robot girls; pointing at Conner. And one of them, instantly, too quick to follow, was squatting upside down on the ceiling, white mantis-arms lengthening.

Flynne saw Conner smile, but then he was gone, a blank curved wall surrounding Flynne, Wilf, Daedra. It was just there.

... [A man enters] ...

He crossed to the side she thought Conner would be behind, stuck his face into it, instantly withdrew it.

"Get them some help," he said to Daedra.

There is a great deal of missing information in that quote. First, the scene involves several unexplained, unintroduced and unfamiliar physical singularities seemingly invented on the spot just for that scene, such as robots that can squat upside down on the ceiling (no explanation given; phenomenon not repeated elsewhere in the text), or people walking through a solid wall (explanation given later). Then, the presence of the wall entirely obscures our view of the fight that may or may not be taking place. We are not even told there is a fight. But - "Get them some help" - is a hint that the ordered disassembly might not be going as non-violently as imagined. In the next chapter, we are given much stronger evidence that the inexplicably fast-moving mantis-armed robot girls were not fast enough.

When reading the calm and brief way this incredibly violent and quick fight is narrated, you cannot help but re-read sentences over, a few times, just to confirm if you caught what was happening. It's not only action, it's a crucial moment in the story, but Gibson shows it to us in the masked, partially-obscured way a person taking part in a slightly different part of the action would see it.

And this exemplifies much of Gibson's demonstration of subjects that are treated much more technically and explicitly in the science fiction genre. It is a Hemingwayan exploration of themes: those of technology, those of martial art, those of plastic and performance art, those of culture, and often as in Neuromancer and Agency, those of love.

We are not handed what is going on, but allowed to observe it through the thinking but often-bewildered and fragile human mind.