Agency

In this sequel to The Peripheral, Gibson returns to a world with multiple futures, and a newly rewritten past. A group from the twenty-second century have alighted on a kind of time travel that lets them send information back in time. Each time they initiate communication, they create a new “stub:” a new timeline that is now irrevocably disconnected from theirs, by virtue of the communication itself. In Agency, a new, earlier stub has been reached, one in which Clinton won the 2016 election, and a nuclear crisis is at hands in the city of Qamishli. In that time, the app-whisperer Verity Jane is hired to test a new virtual assistant program. Called Eunice, it’s so human-like that Verity assumes it’s a con. But Eunice is real, and in between organizing surveillance and counter-intelligence operations, she takes a liking to Verity. There’s a pleasing familiarity in returning to the world of The Peripheral, with its cosplay zones and sigils and looming kleptocracy. But Verity is less a person than a medium for Eunice’s self-discovery, herself absent for much of the book. And the backdrop of Clinton’s handling of the nuclear crisis is couched in such obvious terms (why, yes, it is possible for a president to be reasonably competent!) that it falls flat. That said, Gibson retains his instincts for describing the future that is already here, and there are moments of brutal clarity. “The drivers for the jackpot are still in place, but with less torque at that particular point,” Wilf says of Verity’s stub. “They’re still a bit in advance of the pandemics, at least” (54). Indeed.