William Gibson: The Peripheral – A Tale of Time

You can’t go there. Nobody can. But information can be exchanged, so money can be made there.”

– William Gibson,  The Peripheral

What if the future were run by gangsters? Not your old Italian or Russian Mafioso’s, but families who live beyond their years who control secrets and knowledge bases larger than governments. Who can roam through time or at least send bits of data back to do their bidding. To murder, perhaps? At least so goes the basic plot of William Gibson’s new novel, The Peripheral.

“It’s new . It’s quiet. Lev looks for new things, things his family might invest in. He thinks this one may be out of Shanghai. Something to do with quantum tunneling.”
“How far back can they go?”

“Twenty twenty-three, earliest. He thinks something changed, then; reached a certain level of complexity. Something nobody there had any reason to notice.”
“Remind me of it later.” She reached for him. On the walls, the framed flayed hides of three of her most recent selves. Her newest skin beneath him, unwritten.1

A hint of the Singularity? AI run amok? 3D printing builds a new world? Designer skins for those lucky elites that need a new sleeve for the right occasion? Who knows? I’m just on page 70 and I’m hooked finally realizing just where this story is going, at least I tell myself that hoping it is leading somewhere dark and darker. Gibson seems to be back in tidy form, his prose snaps and bristles with the old cyberpunk flippancy. Yet, one sees a more mature shadow of the former self, a revisionary gleam floating out of the prose from a seasoned veteran who has taken in the hype and spit it out again refraining from the glib glitz of our networked utopianism, and instead conveying the bitter truth of dystopia with a caged smile.

Somewhere ahead of us on the peer to peer communications line of time are two worlds, one in which Flynne Fisher and her brother, Burton live out their lives in a near-future rural America and, while in the other, Wilf Netherton wanders among dark lords of crime in a far flung future-future London. The plot is simple enough: Burton Fischer knows something, something that the overlords of some gangland world of the future wish to erase, so they seek to kill him by wiring money and information back in time along that point in space where he can be found, then killed. As Wilf finds out from another family of criminals who have been tracking such things:

“They want to kill a dead man in a past that effectively doesn’t exist?” Netherton asked. “Why? You’ve always said that nothing that happens there can affect us.”

“Information,” Lev said, “flows both ways. Someone must believe he knows something. Which, were it available here, would pose a danger to them.” (Gibson, 70)

Yet, it’s Flynne who comes alive as a character, her puckish punkishness, her no nonsense matter-of-fact observations, cynical yet full of the old style rebelliousness: grace under pressure? She more than other characters shapes the novel to something that keeps you reading. The other characters still seem a little bland and commercial compared to her Appalachian youth. But, for all that, this isn’t your homegrown variety of Appalachian satire, but rather the emergence of an especially acute intelligence in the midst of a world gone south in more ways than one. America on the decline, fallen on bad times; yet, still working in pragmatic home down fashion with what is at hand to make a living, and survive. Flynne is a girl who outwardly is tough as a boot, but inwardly still harbors those deeper qualities of femininity that marks the need for recognition and independence for women. She can handle what you throw at her, yet she also knows that some things aren’t worth throwing or having. 

There’s a moment when she intervenes into a situation that seems about to go viral, where a young punk named Conner “who was half a machine, like a centaur made out of a motorcycle” has been baited by a couple of football types and is about to show them what violence truly is when she walks out of the bar and confronts him:

“It’s a tiresome asshole town. Least you got an excuse. Go home. Burton’s on his way back from Davisville. He’ll come see you.” And it was like she could see herself there, on the gray gravel in front of Jimmy’s, and the tall old cottonwoods on either side of the lot, trees older than her mother, older than anybody, and she was talking to a boy who was half a machine, like a centaur made out of a motorcycle, and maybe he’d been just about to kill another boy, or a few of them, and maybe he still would. She looked back and saw Madison was on the porch, bracing the football player who’d thrown the bottles, titanium glasses up against the boy’s eyeballs, boy backing to keep from being poked in the chest with the rows of pens and flashlights in Madison’s Teddy Roosevelt vest. She turned back to Conner. “Not worth it, Conner. You go home.”

“Fuck-all ever is,” he said, and grinned, then punched something with his chin. The Tarantula revved, wheeled around, and took off, but he’d been careful not to spray her with gravel. (Gibson, 65-66)

So here I am reading this, realizing Gibson’s hooked me again. Up to this moment I kept wondering what it was all about, not now… now I just want to enjoy the ride of how this strange tale will unfold.

I’ll return with a full review in the short future… stay tuned.

1. Gibson, William (2014-10-28). The Peripheral (p. 39). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

To Publish or Not: Street Lingo or Literary Shibboleths?

future.0A friend recently asked me about publishing, whether one should as an author go literary with quality, or go to the great youth worlds of the day with street talk and music. He was interested in this idea of “publishable quality.” Asking me how I would characterize it? 

I wouldn’t, at least not in the sense of some universal notion. From what I’m reading most of it is beyond doubt all too subjective in the area of editors and publishers these days. The culture I grew up in is gone: the age of print is gone. Even if you see it everywhere, books are dead.

This is the time of Indie’s and self-publishing. Getting published by a formal old-time book publisher is an iffy business from what I read on post after post of even the best published authors in various fields… so who am I to presume to know that answer?

My remark was mainly dealing with the typical aspects of openings, hooks, etc. And it depends if your audience is for the mass appeal, or literary? That truly is the cutting line: how many people do you assume you want to have read your work – the top readers, the echelon who love difficult and complex prose, etc. Or just your basic internet blip reader whose vocabulary is built out of the base set of street talk and music? Nothing demeaning here, but there is a difference.

In my fictional writing I’ve had to compromise a great deal and tone down my knowledge of the English language, so that I might be able to reach the younger generation. I’ve begun tapping into the blogs and sites that cater to younger people to see what kinds of things are actually being bought. In other words I’m a word whore discovering the tribal worlds around me: a cartographer of YA if you will.

The other issue many authors are facing now is the glut of writing being published. One reads over and over how if one takes the road to publish in the more reputable magazines and publishers that one will need an almost informidable tracking record of already published works within the lesser or newer markets. Even books like The Writer’s Market, etc. offer the base approach that if your a newly unpublished author then begin slowly, and they offer selections of publications seeking only new unpublished authors etc.

Others have gone the way of the Indie, the self-publishing world where it’s truly up to you to find your own fan base, market your own work, spend the time and effort building up a circulation and network of sites to promote your work, etc. Even among some of the better known authors this seems to be the way to go these days. Is there a clear cut answer? I doubt it.

Luck always has had a lot to do with markets: that, and having something that connects with a certain segment of the population. In some ways that’s always been true: who is your fictitious reader? Who is your audience? Knowing that is half the battle. Once you know who you are writing for, then one needs only to know what this audience likes and dislikes.  

Blogging has been interesting for me in the fact that I have a small audience, which leads me to believe that for the most part I do have at times difficult aspects to my work, else the things that interest me are not wide-spread fare. Obviously philosophy and the sciences are not everyone’s cup of tea, and the depth of knowledge one needs to ponder many of the current things going on in the various enclaves of both philosophy and the sciences is tremendous. Just the background knowledge alone, years of reading the various players in the fields, let along the history of philosophy and the sciences that play into it. My poetry tends toward a specific mode of dark romanticism edging into the posthuman, weaving eros and thanatos in differing forms. So I’m sure it will only have certain types of readers, which is fine for me.

Yet, as I ponder the SciFi and Fantasy markets I realize the gradient of expertise must come down a notch or two, must deliver a fictional ensemble that is full of action and suspense, yet that is neither simplistic nor over the top writerly crap. What’s interesting in SciFi and Fantasy is not that they are already overly cliché ridden, but how certain authors can take the oldest clichés and make them new, bring to the table new problems and solutions to the old twists and patterns. Maybe that’s the secret: taking the old and making it new, giving it a new twist, a new container and language in which to tell the tales that seem to live own endlessly in that realm between potentiality and actuality.