William Gibson burst onto the sci-fi scene in 1984 with his groundbreaking paperback original Neuromancer, which provided the foundation for a whole new genre called cyberpunk (and which was influenced heavily by Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner). Gibson even coined the term cyberspace. His follow-up novels spanned a series of innovative trilogies—the Sprawl, Bridge, and Blue Ant series—and standalone novels such as The Difference Engine (with Bruce Sterling) and The Peripheral, which is a murder mystery set in divergent futures. One of those futures is a meth-blasted landscape not too far in our future, and the other is an apocalyptic UK hellscape populated by gangsters and tech pirates.
Agency is a pseudo-sequel to The Peripheral. The book has been described as an “expansion pack” of The Peripheral rather than a true sequel, and I agree with that assessment. The Peripheral stands as one of Gibson’s more accomplished later novels, so that works for me! That being said, the stakes aren’t quite as high in this extension of The Peripheral’s narrative; the characters lack the depth of those in the first novel. Gibson’s ideas don’t seem as captivating, either, whether they involve artificial intelligence (in the form of a digital assistant by the name of Eunice) or tantalizing futurescapes or worst-case pandemic and climate-change outcomes. There’s a time-travel element to the story that can be thought-provoking, but it was done to stronger effect in The Peripheral.
But even second-tier Gibson demands attention. There’s no denying the spare power of Gibson’s prose, as always. It comes across as edgy, sleek, and propulsive, shoving you forward into the author’s head. Agency’s pace is fast, introducing new concepts at breakneck speed, leaving the reader only moments to marvel over some technological marvel before moving on to the next. Gibson, as always, is challenging and insightful, using his sci-fi setting to comment on today’s sociological and philosophical challenges. Consider it The Peripheral 1.5. I highly recommend reading that first novel before immersing yourself in the similar (but not quite as stimulating) high-concept world of Agency.