The Peripheral

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The Peripheral
Author William Gibson
Country United States
Language English
Genre Science fiction
Published October 28, 2014[1]
Pages 486
ISBN 0670921556

The Peripheral is a 2014 science fiction mystery-thriller novel by William Gibson.[2] The story is set in multiple futures.[3]

On April 19, 2013, Gibson appeared at the New York Public Library and read from the first chapter: "The Gone Haptics".[4]

Cover art and synopsis for The Peripheral were revealed on July 23, 2014, online.[5]


The novel focuses on Flynne and her brother, Burton. Burton is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps' elite Haptic Recon force.[6] Flynne and Burton become involved in a security job that may actually be connected to murder.[7]

According to GQ's Zach Baron:[8]

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 suffers a form of trauma from his years in the US military's 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, but on the second night of doing so she witnesses a man lock the woman out on her balcony where she is gruesomely devoured by a swarm of nanobots.

Over seventy years later, in the early 22nd century, Wilf Netherton is a publicist in London several decades after an apocalyptic event known as the Jackpot took place. He works with his ex-girlfriend Daedra West, an American artist/celebrity/diplomat, on establishing relations with a group of deformed native humans on a garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean known as "Patchers". However, Daedra winds up killing the boss patcher, named Hamed al-Habib, and androids dispatch the rest of the group. As a result, Wilf is fired and heads over 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", learns that Daedra's sister, Aelita, has gone missing and that the person they hired to provide security from the past through a mysterious Chinese quantum computer server, the very contact which created Flynne's timeline as a branch off of the original timeline that created Wilf's world, was Burton Fisher -- and he might've seen what happened to Aelita. Milagros Coldiron is really their front organization in the past.

Returning from his trip, Burton informs Flynne that Milagros Coldiron wishes to speak with her, and she video calls Wilf and tells him and the others about how Aelita was murdered by a nanobot swarm and a man who knew about them, but Wilf is reluctant to tell her that the murder was not part of a game. Whoever was behind the murder has put a hit contract out on Burton and Flynne on the darknet because they know something. As a result, Burton gets his military colleagues to set up a perimeter around their house. Shortly after, his friend Conner kills four armed men in a car heading up the country road to their house.

Wilf, Lev, and their allies back 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 she can identify the man who killed her and help solve the case. Lev and his assistants Ash and Ossian send back 3D printing instructions for a peripheral headset, which Flynne's computer savvy friends Macon and Edward use to create a connectivity headband for her. She connects to a peripheral that has been brought to Lev's house, where Wilf explains that this is really the future, albeit a possible one for her now that her timeline's 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, pretending she is the peripheral of a woman who studies neoprimitive art. Meanwhile, back in the 21st century, a couple of other assassins are killed by Burton's military colleagues and they attempt to pay off the state governor (who, like most officials in this future, is corrupt) to cover this up. Flynne is kidnapped by a drug baron named Corbell Pickett who is being paid by the people who killed Aelita, known as a corporate collective called Matryoshka, to silence her. She is then rescued by Burton and Conner. Wilf's crew in the future make her, Burton, and their friends executives of Coldiron USA, which competes in economic warfare with Matryoshka around the globe.

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 population dies off, save for those who are able to afford survival and create nanotech called Assemblers that begin to rebuild society. As a result, everything is very efficient and eco-friendly in Wilf's future, but it has mostly empty cities.

Eventually, Wilf and Flynne (in her peripheral) go to Daedra's party, which has become a celebration of Aelita's life. Flynne spots the man who killed Aelita, but Daedra and he kidnap them, revealing themselves to be behind the plot. The man who killed Aelita 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. They also conspired with a city official named Sir Henry, who holds the position of Remembrancer, to try and turn the garbage patch into a resource to sell and profit on by themselves. Aelita was killed for reasons not entirely clear, most likely because Hamed and Daedra feared she was going to sell them out.

Lowbeer and Burton (operating a peripheral-like exoskeleton) come in to save Flynne and Wilf. Flynne and Burton use special weapons that direct Assembler nanobots, and both Hamed and Sir Henry are eaten down to the bone by the machines while Lowbeer has Daedra taken into custody. Flynne winds up married to the police officer she had long been in love with and her brother and friends find love as well. In the further future, Wilf winds up dating his former coworker from Canada and he and Flynne still connect back and forth between timelines to see each other.


  1. ^ "". Retrieved October 25, 2014. 
  2. ^ Geeta Dayal (September 14, 2012). "William Gibson on Why Sci-Fi Writers Are (Thankfully) Almost Always Wrong". Wired. Retrieved September 17, 2012. 
  3. ^ William Gibson (August 22, 2012). "Twitter / GreatDismal: The Peripheral, my next novel". Retrieved September 17, 2012. 
  4. ^ Charlie Jane Anders (April 30, 2013). "Watch William Gibson read from his brand new science fiction novel". Retrieved May 1, 2013. 
  5. ^ "The Peripheral by William Gibson cover art and synopsis". July 23, 2014. Retrieved July 23, 2014. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Zach Baron. "William Gibson Writes the Future". Retrieved October 25, 2014.