|Published||October 28, 2014|
The novel focuses on Flynne and her brother, Burton. Burton is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps' elite Haptic Recon force. Burton is hired for a security job which takes place in what he thinks is cyberspace. When Flynne temporarily takes his place, she witnesses something that may have been murder.
According to GQ's Zach Baron:
The Peripheral is an emphatic return to the science fiction he ceased to write after the turn of this century, set in not one but two futures. The first, not far off from our own present day, takes place in a Winter's Bone-ish world where the only industries still surviving are lightly evolved versions of Walmart and the meth trade. The second future is set further along in time, after a series of not-quite-cataclysmic events that have killed most of the world's population, leaving behind a monarchic class of gangsters, performance artists, and publicists in an otherwise deserted London. Like many Gibson books, The Peripheral is basically a noirish murder mystery wearing a cyberpunk leather jacket and, after an uncharacteristically dense first one hundred pages, a super enjoyable read—though perhaps less so when you consider just how accurate Gibson can be when he's thinking about what might come next. Because according to The Peripheral, what is coming next is, to borrow Gibson's phrase again, well…fucked.
The novel begins sometime in the near-future in a small town in rural America. Flynne Fisher works at a local 3D printing shop and lives with her mother and her brother Burton, who sustained brain trauma from cybernetic implants he received while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps' elite Haptic Recon unit. When Burton heads to another town to counter-protest the protests of a religious extremist group known as Luke 4:5 (similar to the modern day Westboro Baptist Church), he asks her to take over his job working security in a video game/virtual world for a supposedly Colombian company called Milagros Coldiron. Flynne takes the job and notices the game world looks suspiciously like London, but far more empty and more futuristic. Piloting a security quadrocopter, she fends off paparazzi drones from an unknown woman's high-rise apartment. On the second night of doing so she witnesses a man and a woman out on a balcony, where the woman is apparently killed and gruesomely devoured by a swarm of nanobots; Flynne is uncertain whether this is real or part of a virtual game.
The novel alternates between Flynne's experiences and those of Wilf Netherton, a publicist who lives in the early 22nd century, seventy years later than Flynne's time, and several decades after an apocalyptic time known as the Jackpot took place. As the book begins, Wilf is working with Daedra West, an American artist/celebrity/diplomat, on establishing relations with a group of deformed native humans on an enormous cultivated garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean known as "Patchers". However, Daedra's reckless behavior triggers her personal security system, killing all the Patchers and their boss, named Hamed al-Habib. Wilf is fired (he assumes; he doesn't check his mail) and goes to his friend Lev Zubov's house, Lev being the son of a powerful and wealthy Russian family that moved to Britain several generations ago. Lev, a "continua enthusiast", introduced Wilf to "stubs", digital links to computer systems in the past, hosted by an inscrutable computer server in China. Milagros Coldiron is really their front organization to the past in which Flynne and Burton live, a past which has - because of the contact from the future - branched off the original timeline on which Wilf lives. Wilf hired Burton Fisher to be drone security for Daedra's sister, Aelita, as a novelty gift. When Aelita goes missing, Wilf realizes that the drone was the only witness of the event while all other recording devices were disabled.
Returning from his trip, Burton tells Flynne that Milagros Coldiron wants to speak with her. Via a video call, she tells Wilf and the others about what she saw on the tower, but Wilf is reluctant to tell her that the murder was not part of a game. He does tell Flynne that an assassination contract has been put out on Burton, on their timeline, using the darknet. Burton responds by getting his military colleagues to set up a perimeter around their house. Shortly after, his friend Conner, a quadruple amputee confined to a motorized, road-capable wheelchair, kills four armed men in a car heading up the country road to their house, using a mentally-controlled gun rig. Milagros Coldiron begins using their advanced technology and foreknowledge to build financial and political power in the past.
Wilf, Lev, and their allies in the further future are visited by Inspector Ainsley Lowbeer, investigating Aelita's disappearance. When they tell her what Flynne told them, she insists that Flynne be brought to the future via a peripheral (a cyborg avatar that users can connect to from another location) via the quantum server so that Flynne can identify the man who was present when Aelita died, to help solve the case. Lev and his assistants Ash and Ossian send back 3D printing instructions for a peripheral-controlling headset, which Flynne's computer-savvy friends Macon and Edward use to create a connectivity headband for her called "the crown". She connects to a peripheral that has been brought to Lev's house, where Wilf explains that this is really the future, albeit not one possible for her now that her timeline has been altered.
Lowbeer notices that Daedra is holding a new party at her sister's apartment, and she gets Wilf to get himself and Flynne's peripheral invited, with Wilf pretending that the peripheral will be controlled by a woman who studies neoprimitive art and is a huge fan of Daedra's work. Deciding they might need extra muscle to confront Daedra, Wilf's group recruits Conner to manufacture another crown and control another peripheral, a bodyguard for Wilf at the party; Conner is ecstatic at being able to walk again while piloting a peripheral. Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, a second group of assassins is killed by Burton's military colleagues. Milagros Coldiron attempts to "buy" the state governor, who, like most officials of the time, is corrupt, to avoid a police investigation. Burton's group use Milagros Coldiron's money and connections to build a secure base and acquire military equipment. Flynne is kidnapped by one of Burton's colleagues under blackmail by a local drug baron named Corbell Pickett. Pickett explains that the people who killed Aelita are operating corporate collective called Matryoshka with the goal of killing Flynne, and Pickett is negotiating a higher reward before executing her. She is rescued by Burton and Conner, who kill Pickett and destroy his compound. Wilf's crew in the future make her, Burton, and their friends executives of Coldiron USA, which is now battling economically and politically against Matryoshka around the globe, and declares their base the corporate headquarters.
Wilf reveals that the Jackpot begins in the middle of the 21st century as a combination of climate change and other political issues, followed by a series of droughts, famines, pandemics, political chaos, and anarchy. 80% of the global human population dies off. But as this is going on, scientists have created nanotech called Assemblers that begins to rebuild society, as well as finding other scientific and engineering breakthroughs. As a result, everything is very efficient and eco-friendly in Wilf's future, but it has mostly empty cities and most natural animal species are extinct.
Wilf, Flynne and Conner (the latter two in their peripherals) go to Daedra's party, which has become a celebration of Aelita's life. Flynne spots the man who killed Aelita, but he and Daedra kidnap them, revealing themselves to be behind the plot to kill Flynne. Conner's peripheral is killed while trying to escape. The man who was present when Aelita was killed is revealed to be Hamed al-Habib, who had been "killed" by Daedra as a peripheral that day on the garbage patch, and had undergone surgery to revert himself to a more normal human form long ago. Daedra and Hamed have conspired with a city official named Sir Henry, who holds the position of remembrancer, to exterminate the patchers and sell their resources to profit themselves. Aelita was killed for reasons not entirely clear, most likely because Hamed and Daedra feared she was going to sell them out.
Conner (operating a robotic weapon designed in another stub under Lowbeer's influence) and Burton (operating a peripheral-like exoskeleton) break into the room where Flynne and Wilf are being held. Flynne and Burton fire special weapons that direct Assembler nanobots, and both Hamed and Sir Henry are eaten down to the bone by the machines; Daedra is temporarily detained but is released after interrogation. In Flynne's world Matryoshka becomes completely inoperative and Milagros Coldiron gains uncontested power.
Years later, Flynne winds up married to the police officer she had long been interested in; her brother and their friends find love as well. Conner receives a set of bionic limbs constructed from plans sent from the future. Wilf finds love with his former coworker from Canada, with whom he moves in. He and Flynne still connect back and forth between timelines to see each other; Flynne meets weekly with Lowbeer (via peripheral) to discuss the changes to Flynne's world that are being made through the funding of Milagros Coldiron in an attempt to avert the Jackpot.
- "Amazon.com". Retrieved October 25, 2014.
- Geeta Dayal (September 14, 2012). "William Gibson on Why Sci-Fi Writers Are (Thankfully) Almost Always Wrong". Wired. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- William Gibson (August 22, 2012). "Twitter / GreatDismal: The Peripheral, my next novel". Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- Charlie Jane Anders (April 30, 2013). "Watch William Gibson read from his brand new science fiction novel". io9.com. Retrieved May 1, 2013.
- Sloan, Robin (October 27, 2014). "William Gibson's 'The Peripheral' stars a plucky female gamer with 3D printing skills". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 28, 2014.
- Zach Baron. "William Gibson Writes the Future". Retrieved October 25, 2014.