Books: Agency, by William Gibson

Cover of the novel Agency, by William Gibson

Agency, a Novel
by William Gibson
published by Berkeley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC
2020

Agency, a Novel by William Gibson, made me giddy, excited to be reading, and excited to think about the future. Which is worrisome, because it is seriously dystopian!

The story is set in what is functionally the present, in a parallel universe in which the Democrats won the US presidency in 2016, and the world is heading toward a world-ending nuclear conflict triggered by a proxy war in Syria. Authorities in a dark future attempt to intervene to save this parallel reality from destruction by reaching back through time using [a technical magic trick] to contact a woman in San Francisco, who is testing out a new technology that could change her reality’s future.

Be aware that this is the second book in a series that began with The Peripheral, which sets the scene / technology / world-building for this book, and to fully appreciate this one, you’ll need to read its predecessor. Know that the story and quality of writing is worth it to commit to both books!

I’m one of those people who has been reading Gibson’s novels since his cyberpunk era, and am an even bigger fan of his recent, non-cyberpunk work. While cyberpunk felt very much built around dark video game graphics and deadly street fighters, Gibson’s recent writing features remarkably hip female lead characters, contemporary conceptual art, vividly realized technology that feels imminent and consumer-ready, and touchpoints in human cultural products like film, fashion, user interface design, and cosplay. Gibson is developing an extensive female readership, having moved from describing women physically (I flash back to a character’s girlfriend who was perpetually sexually available: “She was always ready…”) to writing in the voice of really compelling female characters. He writes characters that are smart, enjoyable, and human!

Gibson uses language skillfully: there were sentences I re-read out loud to savor. There aren’t many authors I can say that about.

I recommend this book! I especially recommend it to people who like his other recent works, fans of near-future fiction, people who drink coffee at Craftsman + Wolves on Valencia Street (lightly disguised by a slight name change in the novel), people who daydream about AIs that are actually clever, and dystopian futures that feature grown-ups.

I bought this book new from Green Apple Books here in San Francisco. You can order online from them! Always support your local booksellers!

On a prior episode of [this]

I’ve had a pleasant shower, coffee is brewing in my French Press, and I am full of words.

I’m starting this particular blog because the weblog format is the easiest way for me to post frequent, small-ish updates on an irregular schedule, and with relatively little effort.

I’ve had web pages forever, and they are quite satisfying. I am one of those people who insists on writing all of the HTML by hand, which makes spontaneous posting slow, and since I am prolific, my hundreds of pages become an effort to keep up-to-date as HTML evolves. So the one-HTML-page-per-thought model is great for persistent content that has a long lifespan, but is an obstacle for me to just ‘dash something off.’

While “social media” is a popular option, my experiments with it have been mixed. The people I am connected with through school or work don’t have the same interests I do. Sharing gushing reports on science-fiction books to people who attended school with me, but who don’t like science-fiction, feels pointless. I’ve had better luck connecting on topic-centric sites with strangers who share my affinities and enthusiasms, but the feedback loop there pushes me to be a single-topic poster (architecture/design), which isn’t a complete version of me.

Rather than cutting my interests up and carefully distributing them across sites to separate readers, I want a one-stop-posting-shop, and this is intended to be it. I enjoyed this approach with my original Blogger site, Things Consumed, which ran from July 2002 through April 2010, and on the Google+ platform, which has since shut down. This page is intended to be the next iteration of my all-my-interests posting place.

***

I am starting this blog in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s… an odd time. A difficult time.

Late in 2019, a zoonotic virus jumped from animal to animal to humans, and started spreading wildly in Wuhan, China. In a pattern that would soon be repeated in other countries, the authorities were slow to recognize the danger and take preventative measures. While China instituted a comprehensive and effective lockdown of millions of people, it came after travelers had already left; these travelers dispersed the highly contagious severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) around the world, and now, just a few months later, there are more than 2 million cases of COVID-19 (distinction between disease and infection clarification added 2020.05.07, based on WHO explanation here). Testing is not widely available, and there is no preventative medicine nor a cure available yet. The virus can be fatal to any age group, but fatality rates are low for children and highest in the elderly and those with “pre-existing conditions,” (which would mean most Americans).

In my region, as of the time of this writing, we are six weeks into preventative isolation-at-home, limiting our interactions to those within our households. This approach has been both wildly successful in preventing the spread of coronavirus in our region, and profoundly disruptive to ordinary life. Only “essential” businesses remain open: these include hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores, pet food stores, post offices, and restaurants (for delivery/take-away only). Panic broke out early on, and it was difficult to buy food and basic household goods, because some people were buying MONTHS’ worth of it. Toilet paper is widely unavailable in stores, which had enough for everyone’s regular use, but not enough for stockpiles. Buying supplies is now an elaborate effort involving wearing a mask, waiting in a lines spaced out in six foot intervals, and trying not to frighten others while reaching for a bunch of bananas by coming too close to them.

The news every morning updates us on the confirmed-by-testing total of global infections (well over 2 M now) and deaths (over 100,000), which jump dramatically by the day due to each region/country’s belated protective measures, and which are acknowledged as a dramatic undercount, due to the lack of tests. Unemployment is also skyrocketing, as most of our economy not based on essential needs… which raises all sorts of conceptual questions, especially considering how poorly paid essential workers are. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, grocery store workers, pharmacists, and food delivery people are now heroes – yet healthcare professionals are suffering and dying in unacceptably high numbers because of a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and these unacceptable working conditions have not been remedied.

My beloved hometown is a city of 800,000+ people, yet it has the eerie quiet of a scene from a disaster film.

This is the context in which I’ll be writing, and it may affect my otherwise upbeat tone. It has been difficult to do things that make me happy while knowing how others are suffering, while knowing that I am not able to usefully intervene. I’ve been reading some great books and looking at lovely, fun, and sometimes even great art, however, – humans can make great things! – and I still want to celebrate those things in text. So, here goes!

Hello world!

I know, it feels so retro to use the traditional phrase. But it was AMAZING, once, to post things on the Internet pre-www and see your text out THERE. On my glamorous amber (monochrome) monitor. It was exciting.

This is exciting, the way a blank people of paper, or a new sketchbook, is exciting. New. Full of potential.