Wednesday, July 29, 2015

#WilliamGibson #cyberpunk #Sciencefiction #BoingBoing Review of William Gibson's "The Peripheral" or Consequence Free Back in Time Travel (Free for you, not the timeline...)

Here's a review I attempted to do for the Post Gazette but due to the usual circumstances beyond my control I turned it in too late. I blame myself for once. Plus it was too damn long and I added this thing called "links", which you're not supposed to do. I think that's a bad policy by the way. However, they did, perhaps foolishly, send me out another book and that review should see print this Sunday. May miracles never cease. But here's that review. And, hey, white is a color. It's the only way I could review Greg Egan or William Gibson here. The parts in yellow the editor would be free to edit out. Here I left them in. We have plenty of space on the Internet. And why won't Boing Boing pay me for reviews. The Bastards...

Back in the Before Time when there really wasn’t an Internet and Steve Jobs was developing our appreciation for tiny boxes with a multitude of fonts, “Neuromancer” was published in 1984 and very appropriately. And unlike computers being in the guise of an athletic woman breaking through an Orwellian screen, Neuromancer’s scribe imagined a "Blade Runner" directed world full of computer programmers with bad intentions, a dark world run pretty much by information and tech cartels that seemed far more powerful than nation states, and where he pretty much predicted Silk Roads. Still waiting for the neural jacks and the immersive VR but they're coming. Your call as to whether William Gibson got the vibe right or not. 

 Gibson, in the years since, excels at writing science fiction where, to quote Gibson, “the street finds its own uses for things”. He just has an intuitive sense of pinpointing not only personal drone use but where and when and who they’re going to crash on. This is why any new book by Gibson, such as the recently published “The Peripheral” is such a big deal. What horrific thing will he pinpoint next. 

What’s most surprising about the overall concept isn’t just his usual astuteness about tech trajectory -- who among us couldn't predict homemade fabbed 3D printed guns painted according to your area's team colors or black and gold for the 2040 Allegheny county felon -- but quite frankly: his way out time travel central conceit. But it's the best possible time travel you can possibly have in that when you are a "Continua Enthusiast" you create a separate time line from the one you're in. There's no "Back to the Future" problem where you prevent yourself from being born and slowly watch your picture fade from existence. I suppose you could let that relationship with your hawt young mom progress but I digress. And you don't physically go back in time, but more or less communicate backward in time. Plot machinations may ensue if there are versions of you in both timelines. But read the book. 

Of course, being that this is a dark William Gibson novel, where the future Anti Singularity is called “The Jackpot” -- imagine the worst combination of plagues, financial collapse and global weather disruption and there you go --  and has reduced Earth’s population by about 90 percent, people create these “Continuas” for their own evil ends, of course, as opposed to saving the Earth with future technology although that might happen in one optimistic alternate world. Or as it says in the book: “We’re third worlding alternate continuas.”  

They’re very much like the "Babylon 5" characters: The Shadows, whose motto is wars create progress. It’s like funding Hitler in the 30s and being really happy that they developed atom bombs (or radar, or computers, etc.,), which, who knows, might not have been invented in your future. By the way, if you’re wondering about the timelines there seem to be two: the earlier one seems to be happening no sooner than 2040 and the second one where the quantum travel time travel seems to be happening 70 years after, right around 2100. It’s not entirely clear but some of these things are happening in the far future, such as assembler technology used for assassination – which is pretty graphic in that you seem to disappear in a screaming puff of smoke with just your clothes left floating in the wind. There’s also some scientific theory behind quantum tunneling and communication in time, or look up the theories of Ronald Mallett or Seth Lloyd’s publications on quantum time travel. This could happen once you have a lot of functional quantum computers just lying around. Or you should hope that it doesn’t unless some future person is curious about what happens if you give the North Koreans or ISIS tech that’s decades before its time just to see what happens. For fun. Won’t affect him any. Goddamn Continua enthusiasts.

One of the nice things about the book is that it solves a problem about William Gibson novels: They're not always easy to read.  True confession: his best book is "Burning Chrome"  because there you can study his imagery in a short story collection. Plus he just works better in short bursts. His narrators from somewhere beyond 2100 are his usual leads and they're some kind of Mentats with AIs that make them even smarter. But his other narrators, mainly rural folk from Tennessee from 2040 or thereabouts, is a very young Flynn Fisher, who works at that time's version of a Wal Mart, or an average Jane so to speak. So they're constantly explaining some of his more difficult concepts in a very readable language that gives you a better idea of Gibson's bigger concepts. Bottom line: a completely plausible and horrific exploration of a very possible future and why we should hope that non consequential time travel communication should never come on line. Also: an enthralling read that had you racing to the end. Give it 4.2 stars out of 5 if this is the kind of place that gives out stars.

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