OKAY, LET'S RACE! William Gibson's new book, The Peripheral, is a cold open: Here's a young woman named Flynne. She lives in a backcountry American town, and her brother's a veteran. They have stints of employment—playing videogames for profit. People in the future still think about their phones all the time. I identify with that. Check.

Second character: Here's a young PR guy named Wilf Netherton. (Sorry, his name really is Wilf.) He just slept with his client, a 22nd century artist/celebrity/reality star. He's trying to convince her not to parafoil nude on a diplomatic mission. The female form is still threatening in the 22nd century. (Disappointing) check.

These two narrators are both in the future. Flynne isn't too far out, something like 2030, but Wilf is straight up in the 2100s. The plot revolves around a kind of technology, conveniently invented by the Chinese, that allows people in Wilf's century to send information digitally to people in Flynne's. Throughout The Peripheral, Gibson's narrative jumps back and forth between Flynne and Wilf every few pages. I didn't have a ghost of a clue what was happening until page 72, which surprised me so much that I made a note of it. I bet you could do much better.

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A murder initially spurs the plot—Flynne witnesses it, Wilf investigates it—but then recedes, making clear that the book's real mystery lies in the period between Flynne and Wilf's lifetimes, when a huge catastrophe known as "The Jackpot" decimated most of Earth's human and animal populations. Flynne, her brother, and her brother's wonderfully written veteran buddies zip into futuristic squid-suits to see if they can meet the task of preventing it.

Like a lot of science fiction, Gibson's work relies on the crutch of new technology to talk about social issues. He also invents just as much illustrative jargon as he does advanced robotics. When I was younger, I thought the made-up slang in Gibson's books would make more sense if I were a technocrat or a gamer, but at this point I'm pretty sure we're all floating upstream. I let the delightful neologisms wash over me and pretend I'm listening to teenagers. At the risk of referencing one of his past books, Pattern Recognition, you need to immerse yourself in The Peripheral—stick it out and you'll begin to notice meaning. You'll figure it out. It just takes a while.

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