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Literature / The Peripheral

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The Peripheral is a 2014 Cyberpunk science fiction mystery-thriller novel written by William Gibson. Set in multiple futures, it tells the story of Flynne Fisher, who takes a job piloting a security drone in what appears to be a video game, but is actually the future (or rather, the further future). To make matters more complicated, she witnesses a murder and now someone's trying to kill her in the past while she must connect to the future through a cyborg-like avatar called a peripheral to help her employers in the future solve the case. It's a lot.

This is Gibson's first sci-fi novel since All Tomorrow's Parties in 1999, and combines multiple genres such as time travel Science Fiction, cyberpunk/postcyberpunk, Whodunnit, and the thriller. The sequel, Agency, set in yet another Alternate History, was released in January 2020.

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This novel contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Flynne, Tacoma, Clovis, Lowbeer... Most of the female characters could be seen as this.
  • After the End: Wilf's London, although the way he describes it, it wasn't so much a massive apocalypse as a slow worsening of everything, until people looked round and realised civilisation had collapsed while they weren't paying attention.
  • The Alcoholic: Wilf, who needs to have a whisky before doing anything difficult, and often has enough that he either doesn't do it at all or screws it up. Lev has a smart lock on his bar that will let anyone use it except Wilf.
  • Alternate Universe: The technology allows for electronic signals to be sent and received from the past of very close alternate universes.
  • And You Thought It Was a Game: Flynne is told she's playtesting a new game, rather than connecting to another reality.
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  • Big Bad Triumvirate: Hamed al-Habib, Sir Henry, and Daedra West.
  • Bio-Augmentation: In Wilf's future, people pretty much have cybernetics wired into their heads. Phone calls come directly to the cerebrum and can be answered with a tap of the tongue to the roof of the mouth.
  • Black Box: Nobody has any idea of how the tech works - the only lead is that the actual server controlling the equipment is located in China.
  • Crapsack World: Flynne's time period is actually not too long before an actual apocalyptic event, so this is to be expected. Nearing the mid-21st century, the local economy is pretty much reliant on illegal drug manufacture. Ironically, Wilf's post-apocalyptic London is actually quite nice, since there are lots of opportunities for anyone who survived the Jackpot, given that 80% of humans died. Everything is clean and eco-friendly, as well as high-tech.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Pretty much anyone eaten up by Assembler nanobots. Aelita gets her face eaten in by them as she gets devoured from the inside out when she is murdered. And towards the end, Hamed and Sir Henry both get eaten down to the bone by the nanobots.
  • Cyberpunk/Postcyberpunk: It is a William Gibson novel after all. This novel has a unique rural cyberpunk setting in Flynne's era, where she lives in a Crapsack World of a United States shortly before an apocalyptic event known as the Jackpot occurs. Ironically, Wilf Netherton's post-apocalyptic London isn't a crapsack world and is much more Post Cyber Punk, with a clean, eco-friendly, advanced world at the dawn of the 22nd century... However, the global population has been significantly reduced by the Jackpot, so there aren't many crowds. The story itself is a noir-like murder mystery involving shadowy characters.
  • Evil All Along: Hamed, Daedra, and Sir Henry, the city Remembrancer.
  • Faking the Dead: Hamed al-Habib, the boss patcher, was really just using a peripheral and had Daedra "kill" him to fake his death. He was really the man on the balcony who killed Aelita and has been involved in the plot all along.
  • Femme Fatale: Daedra West.
  • The Future Is Noir: More so for Flynne's rural near-future America than Wilf's high-tech glitzy 22nd century London, but in true noir fashion, Wilf is an alcoholic with a Femme Fatale ex-girlfriend and spends most of the novel coming to terms with the hatred for his era.
  • Handicapped Badass: Burton and Conner. Burton needs an exoskeleton to walk comfortably, while Conner is quadriplegic. Both are still expert combatants and fend up multiple assassination attempts and successfully assault a drug compound.
  • Karmic Death: Hamed and Sir Henry had Aelita murdered by letting nanobots eat her alive, so it's rather fitting when they meet a similar fate at the end of the novel.
  • Mega-Corp: Hefty Mart, which includes the Hefty Pal online payment system, Hefty Clips hairdresers and so on. When Flynne is told she now owns it, she thinks it's like being told someone bought the moon.
  • Merchant Prince: Wilf's London has mostly abandoned actual government as being what caused the Jackpot. Instead, it's largely ruled by "the klept" (presumably short for "kleptocracy"); the families of those who survived the Jackpot by being the most ruthless Corrupt Corporate Executives. Lev's family is old klept, although the only reason Wilf is comfortable around him is that he's not personally very good at it.
  • Morph Weapon: Lowbeer has one; a golden baton of office that retracts into what looks like a lipstick case like an advanced version of a collapsible truncheon, and can also be a gun in emergencies.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Twice. Flynne lives in the late 2030s/early 2040s and Wilf lives in the early 2130s.
  • Whodunnit: A sci-fi Time Travel variant, but the story is still this at its very core.
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