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The ShortRead: William Gibson

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The ShortRead of 26th November


Peripheral

THE PERIPHERAL 

Author: William Gibson

What's the story: William Gibson is no stranger to sci-fi. His 1984 novel Neuromancer won the genre's equivalent of the treble - picking up the Nebula Award, the Philip K. Dick Award, and the Hugo Award. The Peripheral steers a course away from the '80s obsession with computer hacking to more contemporary concerns: drones, surveillance and time travel. 

In the year 2020, in a trailer park in the Deep South, a young woman witnesses a murder. She is in a video game, and watches with horror as a drone strike kills a child. At precisely the same moment, one hundred years in the future, a boy is remotely killed on the streets of London's great skyscrapers. The perpetrator remains anonymous. Interweaving two strange futures, from a ramshackle community of US army veterans, to the teeming masses of a mega city, this is a read for anyone who loved the time-twisting stories of Looper or Source Code.

Release date: Out now


Extract

They didn’t think Flynne’s brother had PTSD, but that sometimes the haptics glitched him. They said it was like phantom limb, ghosts of the tattoos he’d worn in the war, put there to tell him when to run, when to be still, when to do the bad- ass dance, which direction and what range. So they allowed him some disability for that, and he lived in the trailer down by the creek. An alcoholic uncle lived there when they were little, veteran of some other war, their father’s older brother. She and Burton and Leon used it for a fort, the summer she was ten. Leon tried to take girls there, later on, but it smelled too bad. When Burton got his discharge, it was empty, except for the biggest wasp nest any of them had ever seen. Most valuable thing on their property, Leon said. Airstream, 1977. He showed her ones on eBay that looked like blunt rifle slugs, went for crazy money in any condition at all. The uncle had gooped this one over with white expansion foam, gone gray and dirty now, to stop it leaking and for insulation. Leon said that had saved it from pickers. She thought it looked like a big old grub, but with tunnels back through it to the windows.

Coming down the path, she saw stray crumbs of that foam, packed down hard in the dark earth. He had the trailer’s lights turned up, and closer, through a window, she partly saw him stand, turn, and on his spine and side the marks where they took the haptics off, like the skin was dusted with something dead- fish silver. They said they could get that off too, but he didn’t want to keep going back.

“Hey, Burton,” she called.

“Easy Ice,” he answered, her gamer tag, one hand bumping the door open, the other tugging a new white t-shirt down, over that chest the Corps gave him, covering the silvered patch above his navel, size and shape of a playing card.

Inside, the trailer was the color of Vaseline, LEDs buried in it, bedded in Hefty Mart amber. She’d helped him sweep it out, before he moved in. He hadn’t bothered to bring the shop vac down from the garage, just bombed the inside a good inch thick with this Chinese polymer, dried glassy and flexible. You could see stubs of burnt matches down inside that, or the cork- patterned paper on the squashed filter of a legally sold cigarette, older than she was. She knew where to find a rusty jeweler’s screwdriver, and somewhere else a 2009 quarter.

Now he just got his stuff out before he hosed the inside, every week or two, like washing out Tupperware. Leon said the polymer was curatorial, how you could peel it all out before you put your American classic up on eBay. Let it take the dirt with it.

Burton took her hand, squeezed, pulling her up and in.

“You going to Davisville?” she asked.

“Leon’s picking me up.”

“Luke 4:5’s protesting there. Shaylene said.”

He shrugged, moving a lot of muscle but not by much.

“That was you, Burton. Last month. On the news. That funeral, in

Carolina.”

He didn’t quite smile.

“You might’ve killed that boy.”

He shook his head, just a fraction, eyes narrowed.

“Scares me, you do that shit.”

“You still walking point, for that lawyer in Tulsa?”

“He isn’t playing. Busy lawyering, I guess.”

“You’re the best he had. Showed him that.”

“Just a game.” Telling herself, more than him.

“Might as well been getting himself a Marine.”

She thought she saw that thing the haptics did, then, that shiver, then gone.


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