While placed firmly in the sci-fi genre of his earlier works, Gibson's latest retains the social commentary from his more recent novels (Zero History, 2010, etc.).
Most Gibson plots essentially concern a race for a particular piece of information—one side seeks to possess it, the other to suppress it. (Although to be fair, isn’t that the plot of most thrillers?) What sets each book apart is the worldbuilding that surrounds that plot kernel. This time around, it’s particularly intriguing. Flynne, a young woman living in a poor, rural American county (probably Southern, though it’s never specified) in the near future, believes she’s beta testing a video game, witnessing the “death” of a virtual character in an urban high-rise. In fact, Flynne has gotten a view into a possible London existing decades in the future and has seen an actual woman get murdered. The two timelines can exchange information and visit each other virtually, via the androidlike “peripherals” of the title. That ability is enough for various future factions to hire killers to go after Flynne and her family or to protect them from that fate, as well as to change the events of her timeline sufficiently enough to ensure that it will never become that future, where, despite considerable scientific advancement, a cascade of disasters has eliminated the majority of human and animal life. Gibson’s strength has always been in establishing setting, while his characters tend to seem a bit blank and inaccessible; for example, alcoholic Wilf’s constant attempts to reach for a drink read more like an annoyingly persistent quirk than a serious psychological problem. Gibson seems to leave his characters’ motives deliberately obscure; due to that and his tendency to pour his energy into the chase, not the goal, the story’s resolution basically fizzles.
This is quintessential Gibson: gonzo yet cool, sharp-edged, sophisticated—but ultimately, vaguely unsatisfying.