Monday 19 December 2022

Time is money, but also money is money

I came to William Gibson in the late 90s, with cyberpunk well-established (even erring on old hat) and cyberspace in vogue to describe the early fumblings of the web. Neuromancer wasn’t on such a cutting edge as it must have been ten years before and didn’t quite connect as it might have done, but I loved the Bridge books and come 2003 there was a new release, Pattern Recognition. The blurb didn’t sound promising; set in the present, no nanotechnology or all-powerful Artificial Intelligences? Something about brands and fashion? Oh dear, no, not my sort of thing at all. A 2007 sequel in the same world, Spook Country, had more overt espionage elements; that was more my sort of thing, and I was sure the last of the series, 2010s Zero History was equally strong.

I hadn’t thought much about Gibson until The Peripheral arrived on Amazon video. It’s incredibly well done, a strong cast hooking you into the story and strong production values to bring the near and not-quite-so-near future to screen convincingly. The book had flown under my radar when it first came out, and after a couple of episodes of the series I debated reading along. I decided to wait, and instead re-read some of his earlier works, building up to the book of The Peripheral after finishing the series. I don’t get as much reading done as I’d really like these days, so going right back to Neuromancer was a bit much; I had half an idea I’d read Pattern Recognition after enjoying its follow-ups (commenters here had recommended it when I posted about Spook Country) but couldn’t remember any details if I had, so that seemed like a good starting point. I’d work back through the Blue Ant books.

It turned out I never had got back to Pattern Recognition. The old memory is getting a bit patchy so I don’t tend to retain much from books I read years ago, but after a chapter or two I’ll get some spark of recollection unless there’s been some sort of serious mind-wipe, and I didn’t recognise any of the patterns in Pattern Recognition. Entirely unsurprisingly I’d done it and myself a terrible disservice dismissing it based on blurb alone, the commenters were right, it’s an excellent book. It’s almost 20 years old now, a longer gap from publication than when I’d first read Neuromancer, but didn’t feel archaic, perhaps as it wasn’t set in the future (“Nothing dates harder and faster and more strangely than the future”, as Neil Gaiman said). Technology has moved on but not unrecognisably so. The protagonist reads message boards from a laptop connected to a mobile rather than social media on a smartphone, but 2003 doesn’t seem so far from 2023.

Moving on to Spook Country the key plot points did come back to me, a bit of a relief that my memory wasn’t entirely faulty, then starting on Zero History… blank again. I never had it read it. It had just been sitting on a shelf. It was probably around the time I switched almost entirely to e-books, having completely run out of space, and at some point assumed I had read it. It was a strong end to the series, tying threads from the first two together. Oddly enough, the current psychodrama not being out of place for a Gibson novel, Twitter makes an appearance; two characters using it for surreptitious communication, their accounts (@gaydolphin1 and @gaydolphin2) actually exist, protected, sitting there since 2010.

So now I’m caught up on the Blue Ant books it’s time to plunge into a world of pandemic, climate disaster, and political instability. And after the news, I’ll start on The Peripheral. Ahhh! And then I got off the bus! And that was just the teachers!!1!