Agency

Like the shadows in Plato’s cave, understanding is always around the corner in Gibson’s novels.  Agency unfolds faster than his other novels but that may only be the result of having read the first book in the series Peripheral.

“Eunice?” “Joyous victory.” “Pardon me?” “The meaning of her name. She’s an intermittently hierarchical array, complexly conterminous. Or that’s my best bet, currently.” He blinked. “Has she peripherals?”

Add connected timelines, multiple “stubs”, and toss in remote-controlled drones and it’s nearly impossible to know who is in what scene.

Conner had positioned the drone, with its charger against the wall, near the entrance, its legs fully retracted. “Who’s on board?” Stets asked Virgil, looking down at the drone. “Conner piloting,” said Virgil, “and Wilf.” “And Rainey,” Netherton said. “Hello,” said Rainey.

Gibson is famous for coining new names for technology, the most famous being cyberspace. Add to that laminar agents, stubs, sigils, and peripherals.

“He called you a laminar agent. Googled that too, on my way out.” “No applicable hit,” Eunice said. “Meant something to him. He also used the term ‘laminae.’ Plural.”

He introduces us to technology controlled by our mouth, in the future we all have modifications to allow us to instantaneously communicate. He also introduces us to the vertigo triggered from jumping to a peripheral.

Lowbeer’s sigil, the coronet, appeared in Netherton’s field of vision. He tapped his left front tooth with his tongue.

Ash said, “as we activate the controller. I assume you’re experiencing entoptics now. A normal phosphene display, that is. Possibly construals.” “Possibly what?” “Construals. The left brain attempting to impose recognizable attributes on randomness. Faces in clouds, for example. The peripheral’s entoptics differ from yours, as would anyone’s. Knowing that, you may be able to visually distinguish the threshold of neurological transition as entoptic difference, the arrival of a different phosphene display. But please keep your eyes closed until Wilf asks you to open them.

I love the details of his worlds: characters that wear “otaku denim”, or a face described as “a palimpsest of wrinkles and mottle”, characters who are “Modigliani-thin”, rooms that are “Baker-Miller pink, an institutional shade once thought to reduce aggression in prisoners.”, and a peripheral that runs “Hermès AI” in the future.  Who takes the time to describe the chair and the lamp and in this way: “a ghostly acrylic occasional chair, beneath a precariously tall, worryingly anamorphic floor lamp.” or dreams of a world where the patina is algorithmic “Was it an actual crack, or an assembler artifact, positioned by an algorithm to suggest authenticity?”

her outfit approximating a Victorian lady’s riding habit, but reimagined as having been cut from nylon aviator jackets and equipped with a demi-bustle that resembled part of a miniature dirigible.

And it’s good to know that Scandinavian design is still going strong in the future while open-plan offices are out:

None of it, as she put it, liable to shape-shift. She admired Scandinavian design of the mid-twentieth century, but couldn’t afford it, so looked for period knockoffs rather than assembler simulacra.

“They help reduce OPA,” Kathy Fang said. “This was one of the prototypes. We make some of the interior trim for them.” “OPA?” “Open-plan anxiety. That’s for your shoes, there.”

Agency takes on the election of 2016, climate change, Brexit, and the politics of today while flipping between stubs and over 100 years into the future.

She took the seat opposite. “Nothing before the 2020s has ever seemed entirely real, to me. Hard to imagine they weren’t constantly happy, given all they still had. Tigers, for instance.”

The biosphere only survives, today, by virtue of what prosthetic assistance we can afford it. The assemblers might keep that going, were the klept to founder. But I don’t trust that some last convulsive urge to short-term profit, some terminal shortsightedness, mightn’t bring an end to everything.”

“Used to be that the one who died with the most toys won. Now it’s who can afford to live longest while holding on to the toys.”

“Nobody has the least fucking idea, or where the hardware is. Lot of people think China, but China’s just naturally where you’d guess something like that would be.” “Why?” “’Cause they opted to mostly go their own way, in the jackpot. They were big enough, the richest country, all set to do it. Just rolled up the carpet and closed the door for a couple decades. Didn’t need to evolve a klept, either.” “Evolve what?” “Klept. What runs the world that isn’t China, up the line where Lowbeer is. Hereditary authoritarian government, roots in organized crime. The jackpot seemed to filter that out of what was already happening, made it dominant.”

Highly recommended.

Agency (Book 2 of 2: The Peripheral)