A follow-up to the dense, time-jumping The Peripheral (currently in production at Amazon TV), Agency employs some of the same characters for another plot based around “stubs” – divergent timelines resulting from communication through digital links to computer systems in the past. It’s possible through something to do with quantum computing, you know yourself. The consciousness of characters can be sent back and forth too, taking up residence in suitable hardware.
This 2017 is one where Trump lost and Brexit was rejected, which might seem a better alternative to us, but people aren’t particularly happy and, with things about to kick-off in Syria, it’s still headed towards “The Jackpot”, an apocalyptic event brought on by terrorism/eco-disaster/infection (take your pick, they’re all to blame, probably), which killed off 80% of the human race in the other timeline. In interviews, Gibson has hinted at a perfectly understandable belief that we’re already building towards our own version of this breakdown, recalling vaguely, as he can, a world before the deluge of plastics.
Those reaching back from the 22nd century to avert disaster go after Eunice, an A.I. – or, hold on, a “cross-platform, individually user-based, autonomous avatar” – stolen from the military and now in the hands of “app whisperer” – product tester to you and me – Verity.
The London of 2136 features whole cosplay zones like the Victorian one where entrants must of course dress accordingly, phones are now implanted in people’s brains from a young age, and children are raised by robot nannies. There are even shopping bags that automatically return to the supermarket under their own steam – or try to at least, by folding themselves into butterfly shapes – and before you mutter “ridiculous!”, remember that Gibson’s predictions – ok, we’re not all using Google Glass – have proved accurate in the past/future. Sounds good, but it hardly qualifies as some uber-tech utopia, kept together as it is by a government referred to as “the klept” – a pretty blatant reference to the less than altruistic motives at work.
Like all Gibson’s work, this is packed tighter than a rush hour Luas, and can be just as tricky to catch a ride on, although it is more accessible than its predecessor. No need to feel bad though, some of the characters – returning PR man Wilf Netherton, hired to help steer this 2017 back from the abyss – seem unsure as to what’s afoot themselves. That being said, there are more ideas here than other writers manage in their whole careers, and it’s a dazzling journey, if you can find yourself a seat.
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