Agency
January 23, 2020 4:16 AM - by William Gibson - Subscribe

William Gibson's "sequel and prequel" to 2014's The Peripheral.
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol (21 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sorry for the minimalist post above, but I couldn’t think of a good way to summarize the book and I didn’t want to just reproduce the back cover summary. Unordered and somewhat cursory thoughts while they’re still fresh, having gotten the book on Tuesday and finished it on my commute this morning.

It’s a more direct sequel than Count Zero, Idoru, or Spook Country were. I probably should have reread The Peripheral. Gibson has always had his tropes, themes, etc., but this is the first time a novel of his has felt like a remix. The return to the San Francisco setting of Virtual Light and All Tomorrow’s Parties, Stets as a more benign Bigend and Verity’s “app whisperer” as something akin to Cayce Pollard as “coolhunter”, though with less of an explanation. Probably me reading too much into things, but I wondered if Madison’s “Finn” was meant to bring "the Finn" of Burning Chrome and the Sprawl Trilogy to mind.

The stub in alternate 2017 seems like a “have your cake and eat it, too” solution to writing in a full-on futuralogical setting and the real world.

Followrs. If this doesn't already exist, it will soon.

Is the title at least semi-ironic in the sense of how little agency Verity seems to have?

Despite the looming possibility of a nuclear exchange, the book felt optimistic and I kind of missed the desperation of Flynne’s stub with Hefty Mart, drugs, and not much else.
"Studded with a variety of black components, it looked like a not-very-enthusiastic cyberpunk cosplay accessory."
Weird to see the word “cyberpunk” appear within Gibson’s work.
“Why not just ask her younger self, here? Knowing about classified American projects was his bread and butter, before you folks came knocking.”

“She has, but without result. That, I hope, may be because he searched government archives.”
Something about the pronoun usage referring to Lowbeer’s pre-transition self in Flynne’s stub bothered me, especially with the second quoted sentence being spoken by Netherton. Other mentions of her younger self (which I only recall being in conversations between Netherton and Lowbeer herself) seem to avoid any pronouns. Was this just a slip-up? Am I reading too much into this?

I kind of like the retcon, for lack of a better term, of the prime timeline's Klept being in part a consequence of Brexit (another instance of reading too much into things and this is only assuming that I'm correctly remembering Lowbeer specifically stating that England rather than the UK was separated from the EU, but this caused me to wonder about the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland after the jackpot, but the world outside of London seems to barely be remarked upon (other than China as closed and unfathomable) both here and in The Peripheral).

Only tangentially related, but I don't know how I missed Dominic Cummings calling for "weirdos from William Gibson novels" to work in Downing Street.
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol at 4:34 AM on January 23, 2020 [2 favorites]


I have a whole bunch of thoughts about this, but I'm mainly preoccupied with how great I feel about what the Agency of the title means.
posted by danhon at 1:14 PM on January 23, 2020


"Somebody shoots down a couple of Russian jets, wham, it's Cold War Atlantis, risen from the depths.” "Cold War Atlantis" captures quite a bit.
posted by MonkeyToes at 9:15 AM on January 24, 2020


this is the first time a novel of his has felt like a remix

Agreed. I enjoyed Agency, and at the same time, I feel a sense of let-down: Gibson has always been so good about world-building and extrapolating ideas and trends that I was hoping for something stranger and more ambitious than what he's done here. Maybe that's just me being greedy--I think of him as transmitting glimpses of the near-future, without explanation, and yet the first chapters are full of exposition. (And commas! My God, so many commas in the opening paragraphs!) He has always trusted that his readers will come along for this weird ride and figure it out alongside the protagonists, but the amount of explaining felt like a departure from that model, almost written as directions to shoot the scene by. Conner and (to a lesser degree) Eunice remain the best speakers in the book, and I think my favorite lines are Conner describing the drone as "Seriously fucked up....but I meant fucked up like I can't fucking wait to use it." His brusque sentences are human, and I'm glad to see this character again because he's somewhat less chilly than the rest of the cast. It is a very kinetic book, like everything is in motion all the time, and Netherton's internal thoughts aren't a patch on Cayce Pollard watching a single petal fall. But I appreciated Lowbeer's elegant, awful solution for dealing with unhappy klept. EEEEEEE! For me, that idea was much better than all of the action back in San Francisco, which, frankly, I rushed through. I will re-read. I think I was struck by how many bathroom breaks there are in Agency and The Peripheral. That may be a strange observation, but really: Does Gibson have a pact with himself not to elide the need to pee? Which--OK, a corrective to sci-fi where nobody has bodily functions, but that level of detail co-exists strangely with the quasi-magic of 1) altering national economies like it's NBD; 2) money being able to purchase solutions immediately; and 3) "I don't know how I just did that thing, but it was majorly important." OTOH, I liked the detail of Caitlin eating food that had been riding around in Verity's pocket. She could have been a bitch to the ex-girlfriend right then, but did something else instead, a tiny non-post-human touch. I'm not sure character development has been Gibson's major interest--he errs much more on the side of showing how smart, badass, skilled people move tactically forward in complicated circumstances, and does that well. Agency is no exception. I'll take this remix Gibson, and hope for a stranger, weirder outing next time around.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:07 PM on January 24, 2020 [1 favorite]


From the LARB: Tracking Reality’s “Fuckedness Quotient”: An Interview with William Gibson. "The story [early on in the project] seemed to me to be a romp of sorts, a sort of upbeat digital Thelma & Louise... I imagined some snarky parodic transit through the sleazier depths of Silicon Valley...Then Donald Trump descended that escalator, to announce his candidacy, and I experienced a disturbance in the world’s fuckedness quotient (as Milgrim thinks of it in Spook Country). The FQ went up yet again with the Brexit Referendum vote, then entirely off the chart with the outcome of the presidential election. My proposed romp looked merely silly, and the zeitgeist I’d started it in gone, the new one profoundly unfamiliar."
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:18 AM on January 26, 2020


So this is Gibson's Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, right? Where he reminisces about the good old days of 2016 and wishes the bad people had been prevented from doing the thing?
posted by kandinski at 4:50 PM on January 27, 2020 [1 favorite]


I reread The Peripheral just prior to reading this, and while I enjoyed Agency it seemed a little slight overall. It was nice to see a sort of optimistic tone take hold, but it didn't really engage me as much as the relative desperation of the earlier novel. The last scene, particularly, called to mind the last scene in The Avengers where our heroes are sitting around eating schawarma.

Gibson has always had his tropes, themes, etc., but this is the first time a novel of his has felt like a remix

I was thinking about this a lot while reading these last two books, but I don't know that Agency in particular is all that unusual in this regard. One could make a wiki of them, but some that stuck out to me in particular were:

- Character communicates to other character via text (Eunice in Agency, calling back to Dixie Flatline communicating via the text in Molly's glasses in Neuromancer)
- Main character is present via drone / telepresence (all of the Peripheral novels, obvs, also the little Tessier-Ashpool droid from Neuromancer)
- Addiction treatment via some kind of biological manipulation making recreational drugs toxic (Neuromancer, referenced in The Peripheral as an alcoholism treatment)
- Two huge, complex organizations merge into one (Neuromancer + Wintermute in Neuromancer, Blue Ant + the Russians in Pattern Recognition)
- Cool Hunter (Pattern Recognition) / Nodal point detector (Idoru) / App whisperer (Agency)
posted by whir at 9:47 PM on February 4, 2020 [1 favorite]


whir, would Cybercowboy/Detective be the Sprawl equivalents for your last point? (Case, Turner/Marly)
posted by kokaku at 7:25 AM on February 11, 2020 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that makes sense. "Person highly talented in rare, micro-specialized area" I guess, though Case's skills are fairly common in his own milieu.
posted by whir at 9:56 AM on February 14, 2020


"Person highly talented in rare, micro-specialized area"

A niche sensitive.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:10 PM on February 14, 2020


Finally finished the book - many thoughts loosely and incompletely arranged...

* overall enjoyed the book and the characters (especially the Eunice/Verity relationship although I would have liked more show-don't-tell to establish V's emotional investment)
* the remix comments here make sense - the positive outcome felt like a foregone conclusion even as the details weren't telegraphed - didn't feel the tension of the Peripheral at all (even in the scene with Fearing)
* It's a Small World After All singalong in the closing meal and conversation between Lowbeer and Netherton
* there's something i can't put my finger on about Gibson and his constantly writing about people with unlimited wealth/power - fantasy? envy? it's been there since the Sprawl tho Neuromancer felt more told from the Street.... all along the protagonists have been people acting on behalf of wealth and power (All Tomorrow's Parties returning to the Street more than others)
* his resolutions continue to be sudden, neat, and tidy - be fun if he branched out into something messy with loosely defined threads
* got the feeling he tied it up to be able to not write a sequel - suspect we'll be getting one anyways - i hope he continues to write stub books and explore other worlds that way and maybe also reveal something of the stub origins (or maybe how it is that the future world is just another stub)
* Eunice as black AI - Ash as queering the world - i want even more of this (like yes! now, with more volume!)
posted by kokaku at 11:51 PM on February 22, 2020 [1 favorite]


also, damn that this make me amgry/sad about our fucked up stub (maybe it was the pointed comment that the crisis was averted because there was a functioning state department)
posted by kokaku at 2:38 AM on February 23, 2020


I disliked this book. I reread Peripheral, which was great. This book did a few things that really baffled me.

First - nothing Verity or Netherton did mattered. Lowbeer and Ash did all the work in the future, and what Wilf could do was superseded by his wife. I don't understand what Verity's role was - she got caught up in the rolling avalanche but was treated like precious cargo the entire book.

Second, there was the constant rehashing of what literally had just happened. At the end of each chapter, the next chapter began with Wilf telling Rainey what had just happened. It disrupted th plot to an extent where I started asking myself if I was reading a different type of book than I thought I was.

Third, who really has agency? Even Unice doesn't seem to have any - much of what she accomplished was done by her laminar selves, which she had no control over.
posted by rebent at 5:32 AM on February 26, 2020 [2 favorites]




I've read it now, and my analysis is exactly like rebent's above. Maybe my only point of contention would be that Eunice's laminar selves are also her. The fact that her distributed unconscious is not under her conscious control doesnt' mean they aren't part of her agency.

Overal, this novel reads like Gibson fanfiction dumbed down for network TV consumption.

On the other hand, I didn't quite dislike it. I mean, it's more linear and nearly all human decisions are inconsequential, but it was a fun ride full of well described demonstrations of competence porn. I also liked that the final showdown was an act of clemency, not of explosive violence. Seems like Eunice already helped Conner become a better human, and that's comforting to read.

Every now and then I think of Bruce Sterling's Maneki Neko. Agency also reminded me of it, as Eunice has the potential to become an overarching hyper-coordinating AI presence. The main differences are first, her human personality substrate, and second, she appears to be very market-oriented instead of basing her coordination on a gift economy.
posted by kandinski at 4:54 PM on February 28, 2020 [2 favorites]


I just picked this up from the library yesterday (I'm likely the first person to read this copy) and on the bus today I kind of paused when I came to this passage on page 54:
"The drivers for the jackpot are still in place, but with less torque at that particular point." He took a seat at the table, "They're still a bit in advance of the pandemics, at least."
Like yeah, I guess that 2017 in some alternate timeline was a bit in advance of the pandemics. Too bad that 2020 in ours isn't.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:20 PM on March 5, 2020


I have achieved the impossible

I got it right on the second batch. I used the muffin recipe from the twitter thread above. You need to make the oven temps high enough and the muffins small enough that they can bake in 14 minutes, so that the yolks do not bake overmuch. It helps if you refrigerate the egg before you peel them, so that they're nice and cold when they go in the oven. A four and a half minute egg is a fragile thing, so boil a few extra so you can waste some.
posted by chrchr at 11:41 AM on March 9, 2020 [1 favorite]


so...this is the Jackpot?
posted by kokaku at 3:05 PM on March 29, 2020 [1 favorite]


there's something i can't put my finger on about Gibson and his constantly writing about people with unlimited wealth/power - fantasy? envy? it's been there since the Sprawl tho Neuromancer felt more told from the Street.... all along the protagonists have been people acting on behalf of wealth and power (All Tomorrow's Parties returning to the Street more than others)

Gibson doesn't seem to like the idea of concentrated power. Maybe he just writes about it, because it is a real phenomenon we are all familiar with in our own ways, which allows him to drive his characters and the plot, and he can present his ideas along the way.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:25 PM on April 10, 2020


I loved the book.

But I wish he had explored the idea of colonialism a bit further. Even if the "Jackpot" stub doesn't benefit financially from interfering with stub timelines, it is still a one-way exertion of power and influence.

It would have been interesting to see a stub push back and influence the Jackpot timeline. Someone inverts the power dynamic and steers Lowbeer and the klept the way that they want, instead of the other way around.

But then that narrative would kind of get Gibson away from his idea of a benevolent, dictatorial immune system that Lowbeer represents, an entity that dissolves klept "cells" that try to get all cancerous and grow outside of the societal organism.

I thought it was a missed opportunity to see Lowbeer's world get pushed around a bit. Maybe a third book will see Gibson challenge the dynamic he's created.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 5:32 PM on April 10, 2020 [2 favorites]


Of course, there's no reason that the Jackpot timeline couldn't itself be a stub, and some extraplanar sadist led it into the Jackpot in the first place...
posted by whir at 10:23 PM on April 17, 2020


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