Penguin / Viking €25
Agency is both a sequel and a prequel to William Gibson's 2014 novel The Peripheral. How can that be, I hear you ask? Well, there are two plotlines. One is set in San Francisco. It's 2017. And guess what? Hilary Clinton has won the election and is in the White House. Brexit has never happened. Things are looking up.
But wait a minute. Our protagonist is Verity. She is an 'app-whisperer' and has got herself a new job with a shady start-up called Tulpagenics. What she is asked to do is test a pair of glasses cum digital-assistant called Eunice. Fast-forward a century to post-apocalyptic London where PR fixer Wilf Netherton is tasked by all-seeing policewoman Ainsley Lawbeer with interfering in the alternative past in which Verity and Eunice exist. So far, so wacky. But this is William Gibson after all.
In fact, be not surprised: the landscape of contemporary literature is full of speculative fiction and of narratives of alternative realities. Agency is supposed to be 'out there', but also familiarly possible. Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and a whole host of other writers have created not only dystopian futures, but differing present-day disaster-scenarios. There's a point, and it's not often one of distraction, more one of warning.
One thing I love more than the didactic tone of much science-fiction is its vocabulary. It has its own pleasures, you could say. Gibson, who coined the term 'cyber-space' in his most famous novel Neuromancer in the 1980s, is known for writing about the internet and virtual reality before either ever existed, and he is adept at coining the terms of what may come to pass. And Agency will not disappoint. Gibson is a visionary, in other words, and in the great tradition of science-fiction writers, he is also something of seer.
In terms of the reading experience, the chapters are short. There are 110 in a 400-page book. The brevity of each makes for pacey storytelling. This is something of a thriller as well as a morality tale. There is also plenty of snappy dialogue. And increasingly, Gibson's fictions feel less and less fictional, and more and more likely. In The Peripheral, which is in development as a TV series by Amazon, for example, the surviving population live under the rule of an authoritarian sect descended from Russian kleptocrats.
And yes, it's very easy to say Agency is a book for Gibson fans, but you don't have to have read Neuromancer or The Peripheral to enjoy Agency. In fact, the fluid nature of narrative time within Gibson's story-worlds means you can pretty much start anywhere.
What I love about Gibson also is his work across media. Agrippa (A Book of the Dead), published in 1992, is a 300-line semi-autobiographical electronic poem which was Gibson's contribution to a collaborative project with artist Dennis Ashbaugh and publisher Kevin Begos, Jr.
It's true Macbeth called the fortune-telling witches in his world "imperfect speakers", and at times the language of Agency can be lax, and whimsical, but more important are the "horrible imaginings" of this fabulous new novel. The title of the novel urges the reader to think about their own agency, and I never read anything by Gibson without being reminded that Necromancer was published in 1984.
So, dip your toe in Gibson's oeuvre. As the philosopher said, there's no stepping into the same river twice, and likewise, there's no stepping into any Gibson novel twice. Once you've read one of his novels, you'll know what I mean.
Sunday Indo Living