The SFFaudio Podcast #428 – READALONG: Burglars Can’t Be Choosers by Lawrence Block

July 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Podcasts 

Podcast
Lawrence Block's Burglars Can't Be Choosers
The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #428 – Jesse and Maissa Bessada talk about Burglars Can’t Be Choosers by Lawrence Block.

Talked about on today’s show:
1977, a Matt Scudder book: A Walk Among Among The Tombstones, cut-up women, he most brutal book Maissa’s ever read, sex, comedy and mystery, a treasure hunt, little gems, is that ever cool!, the 2 cassette audiobook (heavily abridged), just under six hours, it percolated along, coffee drinking, word humour and word play, why I love to read Lawrence Block books, 11 books in the series, 4 short stories, percolating dialogue, an Agatha Christie style mystery, Lawrence Block is an excellent narrator, you’re intellectually engaged, turning the horror of crime into a cozy murder mystery, a magician, sleight of hand, false directions, The Purloined Letter, the Blackstone Audio afterword, maybe I’ll try crime, everything you see on the page is Block’s brain, sparkling personality, Bernie doesn’t age, his burglar charms, Ruth Hightower, you can call me Roger, subsequent books, a front for a burglary business, Block’s dialogue and writing, the whole back end, seeing things we’re not allowed to see, what is happening?, the psychology of the character is a mystery to himself, Carolyn the lesbian poodle groomer, Carolyn is the Watson to Bernie’s Sherlock, it always was a parody, that love of books, contemplating a life of crime, Robin Hood, what kind of dog?, maybe a stuffed dog, no shedding, it’s obvious who the murderer is, carefully set like a jewel, a lot is unconscious, Ruth’s the murderer, suspects, some lurker in the shadows, how small New York is, it fits to Agatha Christie neat, that’s the genre, he’s playing totally by the Hal Clement rules, Mission Of Gravity, Two If By Sea, putting all the evidence before us, a particular hobby horse, The Burglar Who Liked To Quote Kipling, Kipling, The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian, Piet Mondrian, baseball, The Burglar Who Thought He Was Bogart, The Burglar In The Library, locked room murder mystery, The Burglar In The Rye, The Burglar Who Counted Spoons, told in first person, Like A Thief In The Night, A Bad Night For Burglars, from this character’s point of view, fitting in to one area of art or collecting, this is the theater one, everybody’s an actor, everybody in the book has another name or a hidden identity, Lauren, the 85 bucks, a burglar code of ethics, “I never believed in overlooking cash”, choices, the cop costume, which one is the real burglar?, they totally switch, Wesley Brill, playing “the heavy”, he’s lost his skill, this is the book where he gets his skill back, writing fiction is a kind of magic, losing the magic, Lawrence Block is always retiring from writing, staying in hotels, breaking into his own hotel room, writers who write for a living, Bernie’s lifestyle is Block’s lifestyle, going through a divorce, moving to California, an amazing soup of goodness, he’s a soup fiend, he’s also the “Man In The Middle”, Russian dolls, why isn’t this book much better known, Burglar (1987), gender swapped, Bobcat Goldthwait, too much in the words, it would make a great comic, imagery, exposition is not great for comics, a Hercule Poirot ending, Penguin Audio audiobooks, Richard Ferrone’s narration, Recorded Books, masks, Roger Armitage, they’re lying to each other, call me “Wes”, John Wesley, oh there you are!, fake names, really recognizable, how you know someone, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, The Maltese Falcon (1941), two guys looking for the bird, the rara avis, the pear shaped man, a pre-telling, Ms. Brill by Katherine Mansfield, an ESL teacher in France, creating an internal life, an active imagination, moth powder, his yacht, a fried whiting, a flounder, a fox stole, honey cake, Maissa misread it, Reading, Short And Deep, Julie Hoverson’s narration of Ms. Brill, a little box room, Lawrence Block were you inspired by Katherine Mansfield’s story…?: No., a brill is a fish, the ermine toque = fur hat, knocked on the nose, everything is reflecting everything else, without even having read it, echoes of brill, Goldilocks, archetypes, Bernie assumes Ruth has a husband, Ellie, cheating, the ultimate woman, Darla Sandoval, he hasn’t cheated…yet, his cop costume, you don’t even need those burglar’s tools, a break in as a sexual thing, the ability to open locks, modelling a life on Bernie Rhodenbarr, locks and keys, how many passwords, one password, power and speed, a ream of keys, access, keys are responsibilities that weigh you down, physically and metaphorically, memorization, having lockpicks, lockpicking, water my plants, his burglary life, Mrs. Hesh, power is attractive, like sexual triumph, tumblers finishing, he doesn’t want it to be too clear, on the tip of understanding, “I suppose you’re wondering why I’ve gathered you all here”, Rex Stout, Raymond Chandler, a true consulting detective, Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe is a cogitating machine, perfect recall, fine living, food, a reveal, parceled out, we get all of the story, The Hound Of The Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle getting bored of the form, we are Bernie’s Watson, The Silver Blaze, he totally cheated us, cheating, honest cheating cops, the person behind everything, the second gun, triggering, a real play?, second cabbie, James Garner, “Sound Of Distant Drums”, phrases, things that suggest, suggesting rather than saying, a certain feeling, Block is a master manipulator, you flinched, he charmed me out a lot of money, playing a role from the very beginning, he’s an actor, really great, incredibly enjoyable, examining the furniture, shaking out the books, so much in there, intellectual exercise, whodunit?, if you want to know about Watergate now’s the time to read about it, wait twenty years, a good mystery novel gives you all the facts, I feel like Ray Kirschmann, we were totally cheated, a bed is a bed is a bed, no bed of roses, set apart from our world, everybody smokes, no internet, cellphones, computers, answering services, the world has been transformed, visiting a simpler time, sexism of the period is quaint, slightly askew.

POCKET BOOKS - Burglars Can't Be Choosers by Lawrence Block

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #420 – READALONG: Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

May 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #420 – Jesse, Paul, Julie Davis, Maissa, talk about Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

Talked about on today’s show:
Philip Morris vs. Philip Marlowe, he doesn’t like to get paid, not the greatest book?, LOVED IT!, randomly starting, a fix-up, obvious joins, Santa Monica, dumped off, odd climax, parts more than a whole, dialogue, description, character, setting, the rest of the Raymond Chandlers, the psychic part, mooshed together, The High Window, dialogue, a TERRIBLE plot, so stylish, the formula doesn’t matter, a matter of style, high style, a mess because of the way it is put together, Philip K. Dick, cannibalizing stories, here we go, worth reading, his best?, The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye, The Lady In The Lake and The Little Sister, The Mandarin’s Jade, Try The Girl, The Man Who Liked Dogs, a gambling boat, three main threads, all the movies, overdosing, three audio dramas, Jesse’s dreams, the Japanese version of The Long Goodbye, when is it exactly set?, the 1975 Robert Mitchum story, Germany Invades Russia, Detective Kills Two, The Falcon Takes Over, after prohibition, gin bottles, the soakingest-full-of-alcohol book ever, sodden to the corners and spine, seeing the same scenes, a totally autobiographical novel, the girl with the flashlight, he sapped himself with alcohol, blacking out all the time, Nine Princes In Amber by Roger Zelazny, Double Indemnity, Billy Wilder, driven to drink, no prize, two geniuses, a certain self-loathing, doing terrible things, a likeable asshole, 40s and 50s noir films, suicide, similarities, the writer with the drinking, the crazy wife stuff, running into the sea, a recurring theme, night swim, fully loaded, coming off of prohibition, Moose’s imprisonment, below the surface, timeless, set in Dixon Hill land, the Picard detective, Cast A Deadly Spell, gumshoe H.P. Lovecraft, femme fatale, hard drinking, Sam Spade, self knowledge, Agatha Christie, Mickey Spillane, brutal, his brains were on his face, gut shot, shot up with dope, you’re so great, “Tell me some more”, side paths, a simple story arc, getting lost, too much personality, disjointed, Harry Potter, writing derived from movies, how action movies are made, an opening chase scene, all the elements, the formula, the pulp magazine style and needs, the action figure merchandising method, following and not following, literally dragged into the plot, what is this doing here?, a hard fit, deviations, this is not the book at all, too dark and not noir enough, script problems, a character from a different series with Chandler’s plot, Murder, My Sweet, Dick Powell, Who knew murder smelled like honeysuckle?, it tears your heart out, noir for her, Mrs. Grail is her own femme fatale, shot herself in the heart twice, honesty about corruption, Bay City?, a huge corruption scandal, graft, you wanna see my house pal, Commissioner Wax, corrupt to money, everything goes sweet, the wrong side of money, the way they treat the blacks in the story, misdemeanor murder, horribleness, you’re not clean not even one little bit of you, not a just society, my dad was not on the take, I gave her the dope because her dad was cop, the puppets dancing on a string dance for love or money, Velma says money brings its own problems, a torch singer, “money must help”, quoting on twitter, a coat, a hat, a gun, you’re a tough guy, as crazy as two waltzing mice, do something really tough like putting your pants on, hangovers, a face like a sack of mud, strewn with empty bottles, a complete souse, the lady across the street, she doesn’t hold with liquor, a sad busybody, urban isolation, shut away with our own problems, where are the children?, she leaned forward a little, Julie’s right, Anne Riordan, a nice town, reading-along, on the boat with Red, latent homosexuality, slightly sticky, the wet air was as cold as the ashes of love, deferring hanging out with women, give me flowers first, The Maltese Falcon, different insights, Joel Cairo, Paul’s Peter Lorre impressions, not very cheerful, what it isn’t, the master of similes, all negroes, as heavy as a waterlogged boat, a face that had nothing to fear, why people love reading him, we need to do work, we need to infer what the descriptions mean, “Shinebox, where’s Velma at?”, a theory about Moose, golf ball buttons, “Jus the scram white boy, just the scram”, focused on love to the exclusion of all else, that black pool opened up at my feet and I dived in, one of the effects of heavy drinking is memory loss: Korsakoff syndrome, all he could have in his head, why is he simple?, interpretation, why didn’t she shoot herself in the head?, using Moose, looking for love, she did love him (Moose), a tragic hero/monster, Marlowe’s story, The L.A. Times, who needs Agatha Christie, who dun it, why dun it, who sapped Marlowe, amazing descriptions of the night, sometimes it is for love, the gangsters, the why is the reason for the investigation, that’s a character, if the question is why the answer is alcohol, re-reading The Big Sleep, Sherlock Holmes, real California vs. dream California, secret stairways, Mullholland Drive, strange dreams, the mirror on the wall in the office, Lawrence Block, if somebody made a down-payment, an exchange with Rembrandt, he can narrate his own story, a reflection of Moose above, seeing yourself and then someone else, so good Philip K. Dick style, what they were born to do, you can just feel it, applied to a genre, they are themselves, care-free, that whole scene, try the phone book, just waiting to wake up, Dark City (1998), a true love, The Thirteenth Floor (1999), the world is shit, Blade Runner, a new Blade Runner, Arrival, a beautiful gorgeous job, The Running Man, straying, really read it, I’m kind of cute sometimes, Bored To Death, a humorous take on Chandler’s Marlowe, if Jesse won the lottery, I’ll have the desk, and the hat, the equipment, the Sam Spade phone, what Patrick Stewart does, Ross Macdonald, hanging out with rich people, the experience of a writer, too much from life experience, one of the strangest openings to a novel, who has watched all of Veronica Mars?, so good, so well written, Brick, a father daughter private detective agency, hardcore hardboiled, like Buffy, Mitchum is not Elliot Gould, the Ray Porter narration, the Elliot Gould narration, abridged?, he’s not a dummy, a simpleton, a corpus delicious, laugh on your day off.

BALLANTINE BOOKS - Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

Farewell, My Lovely by Raymond Chandler

Posted by Jesse Willis

The SFFaudio Podcast #413 – READALONG: The Man With The Getaway Face by Richard Stark

March 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Aural Noir, Podcasts 

Podcast

The SFFaudio PodcastThe SFFaudio Podcast #413 – Jesse, Paul Weimer, and Maissa discuss The Man With The Getaway Face by Richard Stark

Talked about on today’s show:
Jesse is not a series guy, excellent book, great book, Paul enjoyed it a lot, why haven’t I read this sooner?, The Mourner, cassette change over points, very nostalgic, the narrator Michael Kramer, a one trick pony, fewer adjectives and adverbs, The Hunter, the back story (before the bandages came off), the wife, The Ringworld Engineers, crime habits, he needs some money, a lot of humor, dry humour, all the characters, I’ll get your face back, Handy McKay, when he buys cigarettes from a vending machine, did he light a match on his tooth?, half-lit, when Westlake makes a character, there are no wallpaper characters, are you Sarah Connor?, Charles Wells, very Westlake, so clean and well defined, they know and do what they want, the book’s structure, easier to read on the page than to hear, what about the philosophy?, more of the same, not wanting more of the same, going for ideas, reading westerns, romance, wish fulfillment, Mike Resnick, digestible dialogue driven storytelling, we like Parker, of course he’s a murderer and a thief, a liar, his real name, his Florida hotel name, utterly transformative plastic surgery, it’s science fictional!, the symmetry, you’re still you, taking on the mob, a kind of growth, how Parker talks about Handy McKay, The Steel Hit, he doesn’t know himself, Alma the waitress (aka the Finger), Skim, funny names, he doesn’t know what he’s done, reflection, I’m going to be a better person everyday, we need to admire, different values, willing to kill for goals, an internal set of rules that he respects, the bowling theory of book writing, Stubbs was heroic in his folly, when his thoughts ran through his mind like they were on wheels, a deep philosophy, The Philosophy Of Parker, epicureanism, pleasure as the greatest good, a hooker, men by paperbacks and women by hardcovers, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, living through the pain that is reality, stoicism, get used to it, deal with it, get past it, increasing the pleasure of the little things, an interlibrary loan from the Yukon, appreciating the local detail, New York, New Jersey, Staten Island, scrubby sandy, set in an area Paul recognized, going with the getaway face, Westlake would winter, a tour of the whole east coast, North Carolina, “hey budd-eh”, a great no-shit guy, he’s not a superhero, he’s canny, how did he finance the job?, he’s lying to everybody all the time, a professional problem, some range for motion, some sort of efficiency, fingerprints, bad hombres, the cop never shows up again, crime seems easy, what’s up with the coins?, Payback is an adaption of the The Hunter, you can’t trust the police, you can’t trust the government and you can’t trust your family, “Trust no one!” Cobra Commander, a mirror face, the podcast went in a weird direction, caring about laws, all about efficiency, why does he keep robbing, owning a bunch of businesses around the country, Parker parked the car, how many reasons for the title?, getting away with the head, The Outfit, the syndicate, Robert Duvall, 13 Dresses, The Mourner, The Score, an Alan Arkin movie, The Jugger, The Seventh, changing policies, he trusted the doctor, I get so few patience, everybody in the world is broken, refining an outlook, Westlake is mad at Stark, trusting Alma, Parker doesn’t need the money, you have to do what you’re good at, The Handle, working in big groups, The Rare Coin Score, numismatists, The Green Eagle Score, The Black Ice Score, The Sour Lemon Score, Deadly Edge, Slayground, Butcher’s Moon, Comeback, Backflash, Flashfire, Firebreak, Breakout, Nobody Runs Forever, Ask The Parrot, Parker has no sense of humour, the Dortmunder series, the Grofield series, Jimmy The Kid by Donald Westlake, excerpts from a fake Richard Stark Parker novel called Child Heist, Gary Coleman, Nine Princes In Amber by Roger Zelazny, an homage to Donald Westlake, clippy dialogue, Lawrence Block, when Westlake quit Science Fiction, the Hard Case Crime website, how I found Westlake and Stark, the one thing we know about readers…, one heist per TV season, Leverage, the Gravedigger webcomic, everybody wants to get in on the action, Fifty Years of Parker, Parker’s rules, any rule can be broken, a guy named Mal turned out bad, “When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to hell.”, “When the bandages came off, Parker looked in the mirror at a stranger.”, Spearhead From Space, “when” puts you right into the middle of the action, right back to The Odyssey, Parker on a boat, a Casino off the coast of Cuba, high concept, two-fisted action, he’s come back from the dead, winking at you in every scene, driving, compartmentalizing her life, the best opening line of a book ever: “When the phone rang, Parker was in the garage, killing a man.”, and then the murders began, forest fire, a snitch in the game, they need socialization, very modern, in the army during WWII, how old is Parker?, like Archie Andrews, he’s always in his prime, Prince Corwin, like Batman, he’s always with us, his superpower is he’s all about efficiency, seeking out crime, I appreciate you appreciating it, Aural Noir, running two websites that were virtually identical, Block inhabits a world I don’t inhabit, a lucid world, there are always the same people in every job, completely universal, The Breakfast Club, seedy and exciting, Protector, the books were thin and the ideas were long, Stephen King and his success, 175 pages, Leon Uris, 35¢, double features, what does Parker think about when watching these movies, there’s something wrong with him, he lies to everybody except for himself, “self-contained”, unconscious, kind of like an actor, playing a role, Skim, falling apart, the clinic, fear of losing your stuff, so much is falling apart, is it the world, the swampland in Flordia, cellies, trying to have a conversation, there’s no point in telling this guy, a brutal horrible world, a horror not usually expressed in novels, what’s going to happen next action, doing whatever he wanted, it really isn’t about the money, it’s like he’s trying to get rid of it, what he tells himself, the point of existence, what are you gonna do?, Skim is a pathetic version of Parker, it hardened him, a shark constantly moving and feeding, a death wish?, sloppiness, without a purpose, his elevens were up, Charles Wells’ retirement, Lawrence Block is always retiring like Handy McKay, unfinished Westlake or Stark?, writing like role playing, such a high output, Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, three months for The Sign Of The Four, a great book.

IDW - The Man With The Getaway Face by Richard Stark

AVON - The Man With The Getaway Face by Richard Stark

Posted by Jesse Willis

The WEIRD FICTION roots of TRUE DETECTIVE, season 2, Frank’s story

August 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Commentary 

SFFaudio Commentary

True Detective

Frank Semyon, the criminal businessman from season 2 of True Detective, has a fantastic character arc.

And, like season 1 of True Detective, season 2 is also connected to a weird fiction story by Ambrose Bierce.

For season 1 it was An Inhabitant Of Carcosa (read my post on it HERE).

In season 2 it was An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge (we’ve done a podcast about this one).

So, do you remember the story that Frank (played by Vince Vaughn) tells his wife, Jordan, at the beginning of season 2’s second episode?

Here’s the scene:

Frank and Jordan are lying next to each other in bed.

FRANK: How’d a water stain get there?

Camera cuts up to two brown stains on the ceiling above Frank.

FRANK: It rained maybe twice this last year. It’s like everything’s papier-mache.

JORDAN: Stop thinking.

FRANK: I don’t like being on a ledge.

FRANK: My old man back in Chicago, when I was a kid… (laughs) he used to lock me in the basement when he’d go on a bender. Usually last the night. Let me out the next day. Thought he was keeping me safe, I guess. This one time, I was six – he puts me down there. I wake up and it’s locked. It had happened before. Anyways, so I guess he ended up arrested, I guess.

JORDAN: God, baby.

FRANK: Well, by the second morning I was out of food. The third day the light bulb burnt out. Pitch black in there. That’s when the rats started coming out. I dozed off and I felt a thing nibbling my finger. I woke up, it was, you know, chewing my finger.

JORDAN: What did you do?

FRANK: I grabbed it in the dark with my hands, I started smashing. And I just kept smashing it until it was nothing but goo in my hands. Two more days I was in there. In the dark. ‘Til my dad comes home.

JORDAN: Sometimes I wonder how many things you have like that. That I don’t know about.

FRANK: Ever since, I wondered: what if he never comes home? What if I’m still in that basement in the dark? What if I died there? That’s what that reminds me of.

JORDAN: What?

FRANK: The water stain. Something’s trying to tell me that it’s all papier-mache. Something’s telling me to wake up, like… like I’m not real. Like I’m only dreaming.

True Detective - Season 2, Episode2

Then in the final episode of season 2, episode 8, in his last scene, Frank hears Jordan’s voice, then sees her standing there, in that white dress – the one he had her promise she would wear – and him, standing before her, wearing a white shirt soaked in blood (like the “red rose” he had promised her that he would wear).

And the lines:

[FRANK IS BLEEDING, LIMPING THROUGH THE DESERT]

JORDAN: Hey there handsome.

FRANK: You made it! You okay?

JORDAN: Did. Fine. I’m safe.

FRANK: I’m coming, hold up.

JORDAN: Whats a guy like you doing in a place like this?

FRANK: [WALKING EASIER NOW] Just making my way baby. I told ya, Id make it.

FRANK: You did. You made it. You can rest now.

FRANK: No rest. Never stop moving.

JORDAN: Babe, oh babe – you stopped moving way back there.

True Detective - Season 2, Episode 8

Earlier in episode eight, do you remember where Frank said he’d meet Jordan?

Yeah. And though we never see them meet there Frank was very specific, saying they’d meet in a park called “Obelisco” in “Barquisimeto” (Venezuela).

Here’s what “Obelisco” in Barquisimeto looks like:

Obelisco de Barquisimeto

Frank’s story is the story of An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge!

Posted by Jesse Willis

Review of The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

May 19, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews, Uncategorized 

SFFaudio Review
Magician's LieThe Magician’s Lie
By Greer Macallister; Performed by Nick Podehl and Julia Whelan
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 13 January 2015
[UNABRIDGED] – 11 hours

Themes: / magician / illusion / crime / unreliable narrator /

Publisher summary:

Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband’s murder—and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence. The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear. But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless—and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free…and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.

The description for this book says it’s a blending of Water for Elephants and The Night Circus but I really get much Night Circus from this. It really was more The Prestige (movie version) in a Water For Elephants setting because it’s all about a traveling illusionist. The description had me expecting more in the realm of fantasy but I still enjoyed it over all. While not a big part of the book, this isn’t for the squeamish as there were a few moments that I almost turned it off because of some sadistic/masochistic moments and female assault in the book.

Why is this book more like The Prestige than The Night Circus? The Night Circus had fantastical, unexplained magic happening while The Prestige is all about illusionists who are competing for audiences. There are several illusions described in this book that got me thinking about The Prestige. Another big element in here was the unreliable narrator. Much of the book is a frame story told from the perspective of the main character in the first person so you are often wondering if what they’re telling is true…just like in the movie version of The Prestige (the book was a bit different).

As for the audio side of things, the narrator performance was passable but nothing fancy. Julia Whelan has a neutral, flat tone that I didn’t like so much at first but I acclimated to as the book went on. Nick Podehl did a good job but wasn’t what I hoped for from him compared to others I’ve heard him narrate. I could go either way on recommending this for audio or paper, but the usage of two narrators for a frame story is pretty nice; especially since each part is from a different persons perspective so that the voice of the narrator is essentially their voice.

Posted by Tom Schreck

Review of The Peripheral by William Gibson

December 3, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

The Peripheral by William Gibson audiobook coverThe Peripheral
By William Gibson; Narrated by Lorelei King
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Publication Date: 28 October 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 14 hours, 5 minutes

Themes: / future / time travel / drugs / veterans / crime /

Publisher summary:

Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran’s benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC’s elite Haptic Recon force. Then one night Burton has to go out, but there’s a job he’s supposed to do – a job Flynne didn’t know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He’s supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That’s all there is to it. He’s offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn’t what Burton told her to expect. It might be a game, but it might also be murder.

Reading a new William Gibson novel is both delightful and exciting. He delights with the cool, sardonic yet imaginative visions of the present and future. He excites with his uncanny glimpses of the future, grounded in canny selections from our time.

The Peripheral offers another pleasure, that of Gibson trying something new. His recent brace of novels looked at the very near future, each following a normal linear path. His classic cyberpunk or Sprawl trilogy envisioned a medium-term future, also tending to thriller linearity.

But in The Peripheral we see a very different conceit and narrative structure. This novel relies on two timelines, one in the near-to-medium term future, and one almost a century away. At first we follow these in parallel, trying to infer connections. Then we learn that the further-along future has discovered a form of time travel – well, information exchange with the past, to be precise. The far-future signals the closer-to-us future, and has a proposition. Or two. Then more, which aren’t propositions but assassinations.

This dual-track time-travel-ish idea owes much to Gregory Benford’s 1980 novel Timescape. Other parallels appear; see spoiler section at the bottom of this post.

The future-near-to-us characters are also the more sympathetic. They focus on a young, poor Southern woman, Flynn Fisher, and her family. They live in a postwar backwater, where the economy barely exists apart from illegal drug manufacture. Flynn helps her vet brother, Burton, with an online job and witnesses what seems to be a strange murder. In the future-farther-away we see a PR flack, Wilf Netherton, working with a Russian crime family and their staff. Wilf has made an unspecified bad move, and is trying to improve his situation.

The plot ratchets up slowly and steadily to climax in a party, where multiple schemes intersect. Some, not all, is revealed, and the Fishers end up alive, very rich, and with a powerful edge on their present. Wilf somehow survives, and ends up in a relationship. This is too brisk and cursory a summary, but will do for now.

One of the pleasures of reading William Gibson is tracking his experimental words and phrases. These are concentrated projections of a possible future. Let me list some that caught my eye: klepts, artisanal AIs, battle-ready solicitors, court-certified recall, the viz, hate Kegels, autonomic bleedover, continua enthusiasts, drop bears, period trains, neo-primitivist curators, quasi-biological megavolume carbon collectors, heritage diseases, directed swarm weapons, a synthetic bullshit implant, surprise funeral, mofo-ettes, and a neurologer’s shop. One near-future treat is the “freshly printed salty caramel cronut”.

Some of today’s words mutate in these two futures. For example, poor folks don’t cook, but build drugs with some form of 3d printers. “Homes” refers not to homies or residences, but to Homeland Security. A very bad crisis happened between now and 2025 or so. People afterwards refer to it as the Jackpot.

Some of the language is simply cute. One character has her name changed slightly, and refers to it as “amputating the last letter of her name.” Another speaks of “cleaning up the afterbirth of Christmas ornaments”. The Fisher family shops at a Hefty Mart.

In a sense The Peripheral is Gibson’s gloomiest novel. Like the recent film Interstellar (my notes), this story begins in a bad situation, then gets worse. The Fishers are poor and ill (the brother has seizures, the mother seriously ailing) in a society that clearly doesn’t care for them at all. Their story reads like something from a late 19th-century Southern backwater, or like today’s worst countryside. Characters have little help for the future. What we learn about the Jackpot not only makes things horrible, but sets up a future that’s inhumane. Across all of these times looms the specter of vast economic inequality, of a society caring only for the <1%.

There is a powerful sense that the far-future is a kind of 1% taken to an extreme: a lonely elite, casually breaking off temporal worlds as a hobby, easily committing murders. Our lack of information about the world around London’s far-future elite disturbs me, the more I think of it. Conversely, the far-future world is situated in such total surveillance that they see our/Flynn’s sense of surveillance as charmingly antique.

Overall, The Peripheral offers solid future thought in an engaging narrative. Recommended.

I didn’t read this one, but listened to it on audiobook. Lorelei King was the reader and did a fine job, with the whole file running a touch over 14 hours. King does different nationalities well, which matters in the kind of multinational world Gibson loves. She reads with the right level of cool, too – not a thriller’s burning pace, but with a kind of observation acuity that I always associate with Gibson.

SPOILER SECTION

Here I reveal mysteries of the novel.  Do not read any farther if you wish your brain to remain unsullied.

Ready?

Here they come:

First, more on the plot: one agency in the far-off future is manipulating the past for its own reasons, and hires the Fishers as proxies. Another far-off-future group hires others to kill the Fisher family. Ainsley Lowbeer, a London cop, or something like that, appears in the far-future, with unusual connections to the Fishers’ time. Flynn and Burton are able to interact with their far-future employers via telepresence robots, the titular peripherals. Wilf explains the Jackpot to Flynn, describing a series of interconnected, overlapping crises that killed the majority of humans:

droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but just big enough to be historic events in themselves…

Flynn also learns that by intervening in her time, the far-future team has effectively broken off her world from the stream of time, creating a “stub” which can’t affect their future, and avoiding neatly some classic time travel problems.

Second, how does this gloomy novel end, then? Ah, it’s a happy ending, pretty much, although we don’t learn enough about what happens in the future. We – well, the Fisher stub – get to avoid the Jackpot. Whew!

But Gibson doesn’t want us to relax. Note his comments in a Tor interview:

there may be readers who get to the end and they go, “oh, well, that’s okay, everything worked out for them!”
… But these guys had an immensely powerful—if possibly dangerously crazy—fairy godmother who altered their continuum, who has for some reason decided that she’s going to rake all of their chestnuts out of the fire, so that the world can’t go the horrible it way it went in hers. And whatever else is going to happen, that’s not going to happen for us, you know? We’re going to have to find another way. We’re not going to luck into Lowbeer.

Worse, the Fishers seem like good folks. But what will keep them (or their inheritors) from becoming klepts, with their vast power and advantages?

So this book ends up as a cautionary tale, a huge warning, and a goad to get us hauling ourselves away from the Jackpot.

Third, I mentioned earlier that The Peripheral has links to Benford’s Timescape.  Benford’s future world is facing an existential crisis, due to events occurring in the past, so they reach out to communicate with the past to get them to change their ways. Gibson’s far-future has already experienced the Jackpot, but some of the survivors want to change the past to mitigate the experience. I dimly recall Benford’s future coming to an end, somehow, and the past branching off into a new, better world. This recalls Flynn’s world cutting its way into a different, hopefully non-Jackpotted world.

Posted by Bryan A.

Next Page »