I read the novel nine years ago, when it was first published. Loved it, wrote a review on Goodreads, posted same here on the blog. My book club selected it as a monthly read a few years later; thinking it was still fresh in my memory I didn’t bother to re-read it, but took part in the group discussion. Earlier this year, I watched the television version, which came out in weekly installments. Because it’s a complicated science fiction story with lots of head-spinning ideas, I thought it would be worth a second watch and reading, which I’m doing now.
As noted, when the TV version first aired, viewers had to wait a week between installments. Now that all eight episodes are out there, you can binge it over the course of a night or two, or, as I did the second time around, take eight days and watch one episode each night. Without the weekly gaps, I found the story easier to follow, and picked up on details and connections that had gone over my head the first time around.
So that was great, but then I started re-reading the book (I’m currently halfway through), and — wow — it’s like I’m reading it for the first time. And it’s amazingly good, even better than I remembered.
But it’s memory I want to talk about. Maybe not yours, but mine for sure. Because in my memory, the book differed from the TV adaptation in one key way, and I wondered why the book’s author was so publicly enthusiastic about the TV version, the producers having taken such a major liberty with his story.
I don’t want to get into plot details and spoilers, but the major liberty I saw was the peripheral itself. My recollection of the book was that people living in a more distant future used a child’s toy to communicate with people living in a nearer future, one just slightly ahead of ours. The toy was a robotic truck with a computer chip, wifi, miniature monitor screen, camera, and microphone, which folks from the farther future were able to control. The toy, I thought, was the peripheral of the title. In the TV adaptation, the peripheral is something else entirely, and there is no toy truck (in a few early scenes, there’s a Roomba-type thing scurrying around the floor of Flynn and Burton’s house, and I thought “aha, there’s the peripheral,” but I was mistaken — it’s just a Roomba).
Then, a few days ago, I started re-reading the novel, and damn if my memory hasn’t betrayed me. The TV adaptation, it turns out, is very faithful to Gibson’s novel. Of course there are differences — for one, the Wilf Netherton of the novel is a drunk while his TV counterpart isn’t — but overall the show follows the novel in every important respect, including the key point I’d misremembered. There is no toy truck. The peripheral of the TV adaptation is the peripheral of Gibson’s novel.
So where did that toy truck come from, and why do I have such detailed memories of it? I think it must come from a earlier Gibson novel or short story, a foreshadowing of the story he later developed in “The Peripheral,” although so far I haven’t been able to track it down. Maybe it was another author’s idea, not Gibson’s (I read a lot of science fiction, so that’s entirely possible). The one possibility I don’t want to examine too closely is that I made the whole toy truck thing up, because if that’s true I’ve got bigger memory problems than I want to admit.
Update (4/29/23): Turns out I could’ve saved myself a post, not to mention a whole morning questioning whether I’m still of sound mind, if I’d finished re-reading “The Peripheral” before spouting off.
Yes, there is a child’s toy in the book, used by someone from the more distant future to visit someone in the nearer future, and more importantly it is identified as a peripheral. It isn’t a toy truck, though, it’s a Wheelie Boy™, not yet invented in our time, but I found a graphic someone made of it. Wilf Netherton, in 2100 London, is able to electronically inhabit the Wheelie Boy in the 2030s and look around while having a chat with Flynn at her house in North Carolina. Now I’m well into spoiler territory and will stop, save to express relief that my mind is in better shape than I thought yesterday. I should probably delete this entire post, but what the hell, I’ll leave it up. No one reads this shit anyway, right?
I don’t know how you all feel about re-watching things on TV, but we do a lot of it. Justified and Veronica Mars for the both of us; more recently For All Mankind, and we’ve talked about giving The Sopranos another run. For myself, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Expanse, and I may take a second look at Better Call Saul after I finish my first watch of the final season, which just became available on Netflix. Probably Breaking Bad as well.