The Peripheral

The Peripheral

by William Gibson


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The New York Times bestselling author of Neuromancer and Agency presents a fast-paced sci-fi thriller that takes a terrifying look into the future...

Flynne Fisher lives down a country road, in a rural America where jobs are scarce, unless you count illegal drug manufacture, which she’s trying to avoid. Her brother Burton lives on money from the Veterans Administration, for neurological damage suffered in the Marines’ elite Haptic Recon unit. Flynne earns what she can by assembling product at the local 3D printshop. She made more as a combat scout in an online game, playing for a rich man, but she’s had to let the shooter games go.

Wilf Netherton lives in London, seventy-some years later, on the far side of decades of slow-motion apocalypse. Things are pretty good now, for the haves, and there aren’t many have-nots left. Wilf, a high-powered publicist and celebrity-minder, fancies himself a romantic misfit, in a society where reaching into the past is just another hobby. 

Burton’s been moonlighting online, secretly working security in some game prototype, a virtual world that looks vaguely like London, but a lot weirder. He’s got Flynne taking over shifts, promised her the game’s not a shooter. Still, the crime she witnesses there is plenty bad.

Flynne and Wilf are about to meet one another. Her world will be altered utterly, irrevocably, and Wilf’s, for all its decadence and power, will learn that some of these third-world types from the past can be badass.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“William Gibson’s science fiction is so eerily prophetic that sometimes it seems as if he’s creating the future, not just imagining it.”—The New York Times

Praise for The Peripheral

“Spectacular, a piece of trenchant, far-future speculation that features all the eyeball kicks of Neuromancer and all the maturity and sly wit of Spook Country. It’s brilliant.”—Cory Doctorow

“From page one, The Peripheral ticks and sings with the same controlled, dark energy and effortless grace of language....Like the best of Gibson’s early, groundbreaking work, it offers up the same kind of chewy, tactile future that you can taste and smell and feel on your skin; that you believe, immediately, like some impossible documentary, because the thing that Gibson has always been best at is offering up futures haunted by the past.”—NPR

“[Gibson is] revered not just as a unique and brilliantly talented SF novelist but a social and psychological visionary....[The Peripheral] creates a future that is astoundingly inventive and frighteningly plausible....A wonderful addition to a brilliant oeuvre.”—The Sunday Times (UK)

“Gibson's characters are intensely real, and Flynne is a clever, compelling, stereotype-defying, unhesitating protagonist who makes this novel a standout.”—Publishers Weekly

The Peripheral is one of [Gibson's] most sophisticated attention-management machines, a culmination of his career, both a return to old themes and a step forward, and his most sustained experiment in helping us, even if only for a moment, see the world with new eyes.”—Los Angeles Review of Books

“No one writes better about the near future than Gibson.”—The Washington Post

“Like any really well-designed thrill ride of mystery tour (or sonnet or string quartet), as soon as you get off, you want to get right on for another go-round.”—Locus

More Praise for William Gibson

“His eye for the eerie in the everyday still lends events an otherworldly sheen.”—The New Yorker

“Like Pynchon and DeLillo, Gibson excels at pinpointing the hidden forces that shape our world.”—Details

“William Gibson can craft sentences of uncanny beauty, and he is a great poet of crowds.”—San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

“Gibson’s radar is deftly tuned to the changes in the culture that many of us are missing.”—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The New York Times Book Review - N. K. Jemisin

Gibson's prose is as powerful as ever, packing a shovelful of world-building into each sentence…Gibson fans will be absolutely thrilled.

Publishers Weekly

★ 09/01/2014
Seminal cyberpunk author Gibson, who has spent the last several years writing the more-or-less present-day Zero History series of novels, returns to the future with this slow-burning thriller, ambitiously structured on either side of an economic and ecological collapse known afterward as “the jackpot.” In the hardscrabble “pre-jackpot America“ of our near future, gamer Flynne Fisher is covering a beta-testing shift for her ex-Marine brother when she witnesses what she thinks is a gruesome murder—“some kind of nanotech chainsaw fantasy.“ In a depopulated London decades post-jackpot, Wilf Netherton, a disgraced publicist, is caught unawares when his latest client‘s sister disappears. The resulting investigation kicks Gibson’s discursive narrative into high gear as Flynne, allowed across time lines by use of a “peripheral“ (“an anthropomorphic drone... a telepresence avatar“), proves to be exactly the savvy, principled ally that enigmatic Det. Insp. Ainsley Lowbeer has been looking for. If the mechanics of time-travel are sometimes murky, the stakes are crystal clear when Flynne reaches out from Wilf’s past to alter her own future. All of Gibson’s characters are intensely real, and Flynne is a clever, compelling, stereotype-defying, unhesitating protagonist who makes this novel a standout. Agent: Martha Millard, Martha Millard Literary Agency. (Nov.)

Like the best of Gibson's early, groundbreaking work, it offers up the same kind of chewy, tactile future that you can taste and smell and feel on your skin; that you believe, immediately, like some impossible documentary, because the thing that Gibson has always been best at is offering up futures haunted by the past.

Los Angeles Times

Like a blue whale gulping tons of water and spitting it out for the krill it needs, some part of Gibson has evolved to be very, very good at filtering information overload for just the right elements for his future fictions — which in the years to come might look like predictions.

Entertainment Weekly

Over the course of his career, William Gibson has correctly predicted a broad range of real-life technological advances—from the Web to virtual Japanese pop stars, like the one that just appeared on Letterman—and how human life would change to adapt to them. (Grade: A)

Library Journal

★ 10/15/2014
As a favor to her brother Burton, Flynne Fisher fills in on a mysterious job beta testing a new game. She's glad for the work, as money is tight with her mother needing constant medical care and Burton having financial troubles since he left the marines. Remotely flying a copter around a high-rise building, Flynne is tasked with simply keeping the paparazzi drones away from one of the apartments, but after she witnesses a murder, everything in her life is going to change. VERDICT Gibson leaves his one-step-into-the-future thrillers (his "Bigend" trilogy wrapped up with 2010's Zero History) behind for something a little more complicated and shows he can still stun readers with his ability to take a trenchant look at the present and give a striking vision of the future. Just as he did with his groundbreaking first novel, Neuromancer, the author weds exciting action with an endless stream of big ideas that will stay with readers long after they turn the last page.

Kirkus Reviews

While placed firmly in the sci-fi genre of his earlier works, Gibson's latest retains the social commentary from his more recent novels (Zero History, 2010, etc.).Most Gibson plots essentially concern a race for a particular piece of information—one side seeks to possess it, the other to suppress it. (Although to be fair, isn't that the plot of most thrillers?) What sets each book apart is the worldbuilding that surrounds that plot kernel. This time around, it's particularly intriguing. Flynne, a young woman living in a poor, rural American county (probably Southern, though it's never specified) in the near future, believes she's beta testing a video game, witnessing the "death" of a virtual character in an urban high-rise. In fact, Flynne has gotten a view into a possible London existing decades in the future and has seen an actual woman get murdered. The two timelines can exchange information and visit each other virtually, via the androidlike "peripherals" of the title. That ability is enough for various future factions to hire killers to go after Flynne and her family or to protect them from that fate, as well as to change the events of her timeline sufficiently enough to ensure that it will never become that future, where, despite considerable scientific advancement, a cascade of disasters has eliminated the majority of human and animal life. Gibson's strength has always been in establishing setting, while his characters tend to seem a bit blank and inaccessible; for example, alcoholic Wilf's constant attempts to reach for a drink read more like an annoyingly persistent quirk than a serious psychological problem. Gibson seems to leave his characters' motives deliberately obscure; due to that and his tendency to pour his energy into the chase, not the goal, the story's resolution basically fizzles. This is quintessential Gibson: gonzo yet cool, sharp-edged, sophisticated—but ultimately, vaguely unsatisfying.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425276235
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/06/2015
Series: The Jackpot Trilogy , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 87,458
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Peripheral

By William Gibson
The Haptics

They didn’t think Flynne’s brother had PTSD, but that sometimes the haptics glitched him. They said it was like phantom limb, ghosts of the tattoos he’d worn in the war, put there to tell him when to run, when to be still, when to do the bad-ass dance, which direction and what range. So they allowed him some disability for that, and he lived in the trailer down by the creek. An alcoholic uncle lived there when they were little, veteran of some other war, their father’s older brother. She and Burton and Leon used it for a fort, the summer she was ten. Leon tried to take girls there, later on, but it smelled too bad. When Burton got his discharge, it was empty, except for the biggest wasp nest any of them had ever seen. Most valuable thing on their property, Leon said. Airstream, 1977. He showed her ones on eBay that looked like blunt rifle slugs, went for crazy money in any condition at all. The uncle had gooped this one over with white expansion foam, gone gray and dirty now, to stop it leaking and for insulation. Leon said that had saved it from pickers. She thought it looked like a big old grub, but with tunnels back through it to the windows.

Coming down the path, she saw stray crumbs of that foam, packed down hard in the dark earth. He had the trailer’s lights turned up, and closer, through a window, she partly saw him stand, turn, and on his spine and side the marks where they took the haptics off, like the skin was dusted with something dead-fish silver. They said they could get that off too, but he didn’t want to keep going back.

“Hey, Burton,” she called.

“Easy Ice,” he answered, her gamer tag, one hand bumping the door open, the other tugging a new white t-shirt down, over that chest the Corps gave him, covering the silvered patch above his navel, size and shape of a playing card.

Inside, the trailer was the color of Vaseline, LEDs buried in it, bedded in Hefty Mart amber. She’d helped him sweep it out, before he moved in. He hadn’t bothered to bring the shop vac down from the garage, just bombed the inside a good inch thick with this Chinese polymer, dried glassy and flexible. You could see stubs of burnt matches down inside that, or the cork-patterned paper on the squashed filter of a legally sold cigarette, older than she was. She knew where to find a rusty jeweler’s screwdriver, and somewhere else a 2009 quarter.

Now he just got his stuff out before he hosed the inside, every week or two, like washing out Tupperware. Leon said the polymer was curatorial, how you could peel it all out before you put your American classic up on eBay. Let it take the dirt with it.

Burton took her hand, squeezed, pulling her up and in.

“You going to Davisville?” she asked.

“Leon’s picking me up.”

“Luke 4:5’s protesting there. Shaylene said.”

He shrugged, moving a lot of muscle but not by much.

“That was you, Burton. Last month. On the news. That funeral, in Carolina.”

He didn’t quite smile.

“You might’ve killed that boy.”

He shook his head, just a fraction, eyes narrowed.

“Scares me, you do that shit.”

“You still walking point, for that lawyer in Tulsa?”

“He isn’t playing. Busy lawyering, I guess.”

“You’re the best he had. Showed him that.”

“Just a game.” Telling herself, more than him.

“Might as well been getting himself a Marine.”

She thought she saw that thing the haptics did, then, that shiver, then gone.

“Need you to sub for me,” he said, like nothing had happened. “Five-hour shift. Fly a quadcopter.”

She looked past him to his display. Some Danish supermodel’s legs, retracting into some brand of car nobody she knew would ever drive, or likely even see on the road. “You’re on disability,” she said. “Aren’t supposed to work.”

He looked at her.

“Where’s the job?” she asked.

“No idea.”

“Outsourced? VA’ll catch you.”

“Game,” he said. “Beta of some game.”


“Nothing to shoot. Work a perimeter around three floors of this tower, fifty-fifth to fifty-seventh. See what turns up.”

“What does?”

“Paparazzi.” He showed her the length of his index finger. “Little things. You get in their way. Edge ’em back. That’s all you do.”


“Tonight. Get you set up before Leon comes.”

“Supposed to help Shaylene, later.”

“Give you two fives.” He took his wallet from his jeans, edged out a pair of new bills, the little windows unscratched, holograms bright.

Folded, they went into the right front pocket of her cutoffs. “Turn the lights down,” she said, “hurts my eyes.”

He did, swinging his hand through the display, but then the place looked like a seventeen-year-old boy’s bedroom. She reached over, flicked it up a little.

She sat in his chair. It was Chinese, reconfiguring to her height and weight as he pulled himself up an old metal stool, almost no paint left on it, waving a screen into view.


“What’s that?” she asked.

“Who we’re working for.”

“How do they pay you?”

“Hefty Pal.”

“You’ll get caught for sure.”

“Goes to an account of Leon’s,” he said. Leon’s Army service had been about the same time as Burton’s in the Marines, but Leon wasn’t due any disability. Wasn’t, their mother said, like he could claim to have caught the dumbfuck there. Not that Flynne had ever thought Leon was anything but sly, under it all, and lazy. “Need my log-in and the password. Hat trick.” How they both pronounced his tag, HaptRec, to keep it private. He took an envelope from his back pocket, unfolded and opened it. The paper looked thick, creamy.

“That from Fab?”

He drew out a long slip of the same paper, printed with what looked to be a full paragraph of characters and symbols. “You scan it, or type it outside that window, we’re out a job.”

She picked up the envelope, from where it lay on what she guessed had been a fold-down dining table. It was one of Shaylene’s top-shelf stationery items, kept literally on a top shelf. When letter orders came in from big companies, or lawyers, you went up there. She ran her thumb across the logo in the upper left corner. “Medellín?”

“Security firm.”

“You said it’s a game.”

“That’s ten thousand dollars, in your pocket.”

“How long you been doing this?”

“Two weeks now. Sundays off.”

“How much you get?”

“Twenty-five thousand per.”

“Make it twenty, then. Short notice and I’m stiffing Shaylene.”

He gave her another two fives.


Death Cookie

Netherton woke to Rainey’s sigil, pulsing behind his lids at the rate of a resting heartbeat. He opened his eyes. Knowing better than to move his head, he confirmed that he was in bed, alone. Both positive, under current circumstances. Slowly, he lifted his head from the pillow, until he could see that his clothes weren’t where he assumed he would have dropped them. Cleaners, he knew, would have come from their nest beneath the bed, to drag them away, flense them of whatever invisible quanta of sebum, skin-flakes, atmospheric particulates, food residue, other.

“Soiled,” he pronounced, thickly, having briefly imagined such cleaners for the psyche, and let his head fall back.

Rainey’s sigil began to strobe, demandingly.

He sat up cautiously. Standing would be the real test. “Yes?”

Strobing ceased. “Un petit problème,” Rainey said.

He closed his eyes, but then there was only her sigil. He opened them.

“She’s your fucking problem, Wilf.”

He winced, the amount of pain this caused startling him. “Have you always had this puritanical streak? I hadn’t noticed.”

“You’re a publicist,” she said. “She’s a celebrity. That’s interspecies.”

His eyes, a size too large for their sockets, felt gritty. “She must be nearing the patch,” he said, reflexively attempting to suggest that he was alert, in control, as opposed to disastrously and quite expectedly hungover.

“They’re almost above it now,” she said. “With your problem.”

“What’s she done?”

“One of her stylists,” she said, “is also, evidently, a tattooist.”

Again, the sigil dominated his private pain-filled dark. “She didn’t,” he said, opening his eyes. “She did?”

“She did.”

"We had an extremely specific verbal on that.”

“Fix it,” she said. “Now. The world’s watching, Wilf. As much of it as we’ve been able to scrape together, anyway. Will Daedra West make peace with the patchers, they wonder? Should they decide to back our project, they ask? We want yes, and yes.”

“They ate the last two envoys,” he said. “Hallucinating in synch with a forest of code, convinced their visitors were shamanic spirit beasts. I spent three entire days, last month, having her briefed at the Connaught. Two anthropologists, three neoprimitivist curators. No tattoos. A brand-new, perfectly blank epidermis. Now this.”

“Talk her out of it, Wilf.”

He stood, experimentally. Hobbled, naked, into the bathroom. Urinated as loudly as possible. “Out of what, exactly?”

“Parafoiling in—”

“That’s been the plan—”

“In nothing but her new tattoos.”

“Seriously? No.”

“Seriously,” she said.

“Their aesthetic, if you haven’t noticed, is about benign skin cancers, supernumerary nipples. Conventional tattoos belong firmly among the iconics of the hegemon. It’s like wearing your cock ring to meet the pope, and making sure he sees it. Actually, it’s worse than that. What are they like?”

“Posthuman filth, according to you.”

“The tattoos!”

“Something to do with the Gyre,” she said. “Abstract.”

“Cultural appropriation. Lovely. Couldn’t be worse. On her face? Neck?”

“No, fortunately. If you can talk her into the jumpsuit we’re printing on the moby, we may still have a project.”

He looked at the ceiling. Imagined it opening. Himself ascending. Into he knew not what.

“Then there’s the matter of our Saudi backing,” she said, “which is considerable. Visible tattoos would be a stretch, there. Nudity’s nonnegotiable.”

“They might take it as a signal of sexual availability,” he said, having done so himself.

“The Saudis?”

“The patchers.”

“They might take it as her offer to be lunch,” she said. “Their last, either way. She’s a death cookie, Wilf, for the next week or so. Anyone so much as steals a kiss goes into anaphylactic shock. Something with her thumbnails, too, but we’re less clear about that.”

He wrapped his waist in a thick white towel. Considered the carafe of water on the marble countertop. His stomach spasmed.

“Lorenzo,” she said, as an unfamiliar sigil appeared, “Wilf Netherton has your feed, in London.”

He almost vomited, then, at the sudden input: bright saline light above the Garbage Patch, the sense of forward motion.


Pushing Bugs

She managed to get off the phone with Shaylene without mentioning Burton. Shaylene had gone out with him a few times in high school, but she’d gotten more interested when he’d come back from the Marines, with that chest and the stories around town about Haptic Recon 1. Flynne figured Shaylene was basically doing what the relationship shows called romanticizing pathology. Not that there was a whole lot better available locally.

She and Shaylene both worried about Burton getting in trouble over Luke 4:5, but that was about all they agreed on, when it came to him. Nobody liked Luke 4:5, but Burton had a bad thing about them. She had a feeling they were just convenient, but it still scared her. They’d started out as a church, or in a church, not liking anyone being gay or getting abortions or using birth control. Protesting military funerals, which was a thing. Basically they were just assholes, though, and took it as the measure of God’s satisfaction with them that everybody else thought they were assholes. For Burton, they were a way around whatever kept him in line the rest of the time.

She leaned forward now, to squint under the table for the black nylon case he kept his tomahawk in. Wouldn’t want him going up to Davisville with that. He called it an axe, not a tomahawk, but an axe was something you chopped wood with. She reached under, hooked it out, relieved to feel the weight. Didn’t need to open it, but she did. Case was widest at the top, allowing for the part you’d have chopped wood with. More like the blade of a chisel, but hawk-billed. Where the back of an axe would’ve been flat, like the face of a hammer, it was spiked, like a miniature of the blade but curved the other way. Either one thick as your little finger, but ground to edges you wouldn’t feel as you cut yourself. Handle was graceful, a little recurved, the wood soaked in something that made it tougher, springy. The maker had a forge in Tennessee, and everyone in Haptic Recon 1 got one. It looked used. Careful of her fingers, she closed the case and put it back under the table.

She swung her phone through the display, checking Badger’s map of the county. Shaylene’s badge was in Forever Fab, an anxious segment of purple in its emo ring. Nobody looked to be up to much, which wasn’t exactly a surprise. Madison and Janice were gaming, Sukhoi Flankers, vintage flight sims being Madison’s main earner. They both had their rings beige, for bored shitless, but then they always had them that way. Made four people she knew working tonight, counting her.

She bent her phone the way she liked it for gaming, thumbed HaptRec into the log-in window, entered the long-ass password. Flicked go. Nothing happened. Then the whole display popped, like the flash of a camera in an old movie, silvered like the marks of the haptics. She blinked.

And then she was rising, out of what Burton said would be a launch bay in the roof of a van. Like she was in an elevator. No control yet. And all around her, and he hadn’t told her this, were whispers, urgent as they were faint, like a cloud of invisible fairy police dispatchers.

And this other evening light, rainy, rose and silver, and to her left a river the color of cold lead. Dark tumble of city, towers in the distance, few lights.

Camera down giving her the white rectangle of the van, shrinking in the street below. Camera up, the building towered away forever, a cliff the size of the world.


Excerpted from "The Peripheral"
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Copyright © 2015 William Gibson.
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