This book caught me by surprise. I’d expected an inventive, plausible, fast-paced techno-thriller. What I got was a gentle meander through the politics and technologies of multiple versions of our world which was entertaining but never thrilling or even tense.
The first book in this series, “The Peripheral”, was much more of a page-turner, was crammed with new ideas and kept me engaged and guessing all the way through.
That was five years ago, which is a long time in technology terms so Gibson now has a whole new set of techno trends for us to play with. Most of the fun I had with the book was trying to guess what the technology is and what the gap is between it and current capabilities.
At one point, Gibson’s character mentions Boston Dynamics as a starting point for innovation in robotics. These guys make great videos. Wanna see a bipedal robot run a Parcourt course or a robot dog open doors and do a dance? Take a look at this video
It’s fun and cute at first. Then it sinks in and it’s scary as hell. Gibson builds on this to produce some truly threatening tech. He also gives us an updated view of AI, this time as the convergence of attempts to upload human skillsets into expert systems with a concept of distributed, autonomous decision making.
Once I accepted the relaxed pace of “Agency” and allowed myself to let go of the “Thriller” tag, I enjoyed the book as an accomplished exploration of the concept of agency as we fall into a kleptocratic world. What can we do to limit the damage done by greedy, corrupt autocracies, unwilling and perhaps unable to think beyond short-term self-interest? It also looked at the impact of emerging AIs and augmented humans in creating a partially post-human world.
Part of the leisurely pace of the book comes from the fact that “Agency” sticks with the concepts of The Jackpot and of Stubs from “The Peripheral”. (If you haven’t read *The Peripheral”, go back and read it first, it’s well worth it or follow this link to read a summary) and uses characters we know well from the first book. What I liked most about this was the opportunity to re-cast what Lowbeer was doing as being an attempt to colonise the Stubs, at least culturally, and or, a means of reducing the power of the Kleptocracy in all timelines.
If you decide you want to take this leisurely stroll through Gibson’s imagination, I suggest you listen to the audiobook and let the talented Lorelie King be your guide. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.