Book Review: Agency

Agency by William Gibson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

DISCLAIMER: I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest and unbiased review. My thanks to Penguin UK and NetGalley for giving me this opportunity.

This is the second instalment in William Gibson’s Peripheral series, and follows pretty much the same format as the first book. Two separate timelines that slowly get drawn together as events in one begin to have an effect on the other.

As with The Peripheral, which I reviewed a couple of days ago, one of the timelines in this book is Wilf Netherton’s early 22nd Century, and while the mid-21st Century timeline of the first book does have a small part to play in this novel, the primary stub we get to explore is a variant on our own contemporary world, only instead of Trump, Hillary won the 2016 presidential campaign, and the UK voted to remain in the EU. Of course, this being a William Gibson novel, not everything in this alternate reality is running smoothly. Terrorist action in Syria has led to a rapid escalation of the Middle East conflict and the world sits on the brink of nuclear annihilation.

Despite the near-apocalyptic tone of the setting, the bulk of the narrative focuses on the apparent emergence of the world’s first fully aware artificial sentience, Eunice, and her desire to claim control of her own life. Along for the ride is Verity, an ‘app whisperer’ who is hired to beta-test Eunice, though as Eunice begins to take control of her own life Verity’s freedom is rapidly curtailed.

Just like in the first book Wilf is brought on board to liaise with the denizens of the stub, specifically Verity, though back in his own timeline he finds himself getting drawn into a bit of cloak and dagger involving his employer, Lowbeer, and the Russian kleptocrats who think they control her. As a result, where the storylines of the first book converged as the novel unfolded, here they diverge, ultimately leaving us with two separate and distinct narratives.

Once again this is an excellent read from Gibson. There are still passing references to the mysterious server that allows Wilf’s timeline to communicate with the stubs of the past, but we’re still no closer to finding out the true story behind that. Assuming the next book is the finale then I suspect we’ll learn a lot more about that server and just how the various timelines are interconnected when that hits the shelves. I just hope we don’t have to wait another six years for book three.

This is definitely one you should read if you’re a fan of Gibson’s earlier work, or indeed of cyberpunk in general, though if you haven’t read book one then I strongly suggest you do that first.

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