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Sci-fi seer William Gibson serves up an unsettling morality tale set in an alternative universe

Fiction: Agency

William Gibson

Penguin / Viking €25

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William Gibson, in the great tradition of science-fiction writers, is something of a seer

William Gibson, in the great tradition of science-fiction writers, is something of a seer

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Agency by William Gibson

Agency by William Gibson

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William Gibson, in the great tradition of science-fiction writers, is something of a seer

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.