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 (10 comments total) 2 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 [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


"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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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