Read past the first 75 pages and The Peripheral will begin to make sense. The chapters alternate between two timelines / universes that each contain an abundance of characters and lack of information. It’s confusing and takes effort from the reader, but the payoff is a highly enjoyable science fiction novel with action, mystery, set in a dystopian future.
How do people in the two universes interact with each other? Gibson basically plays the wizard-did-it card and none of the characters know how the technology works. There’s a server in China. Quantum-tunnelling? It’s basically magic. If you get hung up on the how, then the novel will become less enjoyable. Just accept that somewhere there’s a server in China that lets people from the future tap into the Internet of the past.
This alternate past is a playground for a few rich eccentrics in the future. One example has a person manipulating pasts to see how quickly things can spiral out of control and what high-tech weapons they can create. The reason the past we’re introduced to is important, is because one of the characters, Flynne, witnesses a murder in the future. As one faction wants to learn who the murderer was and the other faction wants to clean up the crime, the novel revolves around the two factions manipulating events in the alternate past in order to kill Flynne.
The title refers to a sort of virtual interface with the world. Instead of the virtual reality we’re used to, characters in this novel can operate a human-like being or one that is not human-like to interact with the world around them. Forget teleconferencing or, cringe, Second Life. In future of The Peripheral, someone could operate a human-like being with full sensory inputs halfway around the world and walk and talk with another person. It’s a cool idea and takes on the role of masks in Shakespeare.
One thing that interested me, and is a question for others who have read the novel, is the future really someone else’s stub? China looms as this mysterious, technological super power. Was someone there contacted from the future? Can stubs have stubs?
[UPDATE: 4/6/2015 from William Gibson]
@thirdcoast Seemed theoretically possible given the logic of the narrative, but I never assumed it to absolutely be (or not be) the case.
— William Gibson (@GreatDismal) April 6, 2015
If you enjoy tension-filled drama, dystopian science fiction and an early dose of confusion, you should give this book a read. However, if patience isn’t your strong point, it may be best to avoid.