Book Review: Agency

Because he is one of the reasons I became a writer, I read this as quickly as possible. So here’s my review, pinched from Goodreads.

Agency is pure classic William Gibson in one way and a new Gibson in another. On the one hand, the futurism, the wry insights into the way we interact with and integrate technology into our lifestyles, is wonderfully intact. Gibson’s language is as dense, precise, and striking as ever.

On the other, this is a strict alternating viewpoint novel with small chapters–over 100!–that deliberately, unapologetically whiplashes from an alternate universe, present-day San Francisco, to a futuristic London post-“Jackpot” featured in the previous novel, The Peripheral. Agency is a mostly standalone novel about Verity Jane. She is a widely regarded “app whisperer” hired to beta test some new software. The software is a radical evolution of the digital assistants like Siri and Alexa we are slowly grappling with today.

At the same time, 22nd-century characters from The Peripheral, such as Wilf Netherton and Lowbeer, are interacting with her timeline–and her–to head off a coming catastrophe that could devastate her timeline. This is despite the fact that Trump lost the election in this “stub” and the UK remained in the EU.

A Fast Gibson

The book moves at a breathless pace. It’s a fascinating mix of cutting edge present-day technology interacting with some genuinely spooky examples of information warfare, and how vulnerable systems can be to an AI willing to accomplish goals by any means necessary. The book moved surprisingly fast. It was surprisingly accessible, as well. It may just be my familiarity, but this seemed easier as a First Read than Neuromancer. Or his past novels, like the Blue Ant trilogy.

It’s fascinating to see the change in William Gibson’s perspective. He has come to place more hope in the ability of people to do the right things with technology. How they find ways to subvert oppressive systems, then in his early 80s cyberpunk days, when dystopia seemed unavoidable.

For people new to William Gibson, The Peripheral, and now Agency, may be a good place to start. For fans, this is a fast, surprisingly accessible read.