A book that has ‘Agency‘ as its title, and is written by William Gibson, as Boris already intuited, is a book that I must read. So I did, in the past few days after it got published on January 23rd.

It was disappointing I thought.
Except for its definition of personal agency by a rogue AI as personhood, financial independence, and global citizenship, plus transparency about that towards others. And except for introducing the concept of Competitive Control Areas (described more theoretically here) to overcome failed states (in this case by installing Russian oligarchs/gangs, aptly named the ‘klept’. We probably should use that term more widely)

The playing with alternate time paths (stubs) I disliked as it seems a cop-out (leave the timey wimey stuff to The Doctor, where it’s all just a bit of good fun). Other than that the entire book is merely a long chase through a USA where Trump never got elected and Brexit didn’t happen (but Syria might become a nuclear war zone). A high speed chase with AI glasses, and coolio drones remotely controlled by people from the future who lived through the ‘Jackpot’ (the crunch where 80% of humanity died from the climate emergency, but somehow the tech level never collapsed) and now seem rather relaxed about it all as they interfere in other timepaths for fun mostly.

William Gibson, father of 'cyberpunk'William Gibson, image by Frédéric Poirot, license CC BY SA

4 reactions on “Agency, by William Gibson

    • I remember enjoying The Peripheral, yes. I didn’t recall much of it before or during reading Agency. Maybe I should re-read it, or have done so before this one. It has been 5 years after all. I do remember having had my reservations about the time stubs there too. It may also be just me. The past month I wasn’t in a very constructive state of mind, too much hectics around me the past few weeks. So maybe the disappointment is that it didn’t for a few hours bring the diversion/escape I hoped for.

  1. This book has a lot more depth if you’ve read the previous one.

    “The Peripheral” goes into more detail about the stubs, including 3D printing of phones and medicine. Some of it “illegally” because of the way the data is licensed.

    I think that AI itself having “agency”, and partnering with and protecting a human “friend” is interesting.

    The klept themselves end up being taken down — questioning how much agency even they have.

    And I am starting to see klepts in today’s world for sure. I find Gibson’s worlds shifting ever closer to ours and giving me a certain level of discomfort because of that.

    I may re-read The Peripheral and then Agency again. I find a lot of depth in these books.

    • I do remember having had my reservations about the time stubs in The Peripheral too. Though I enjoyed that one better. Maybe I should have reread the Peripheral first. I did like the 1980’s Sprawl trilogy, which touches upon much the same things, like an AI carving out its own freedom, oligarchy, hybridisation, etc, with WWIII where now the Climate Urgency is used. That one doesn’t do the timey wimey stuff, (but rather amusingly chooses religion and voodoo rituals to express the digital world of AIs to humans.)

      Yes, I do appreciate what you say how Gibson is getting closer to our own world, and the discomfort caused by it.
      Doctorow has a good hand of that too, but coming from a different angle, less looming. Near future SF is fascinating.

      Definitely the klept is out there. Not just in its bloody mad max incarnations such as in the failed states of the ME, but also behind the arson we see around us to induce failings of governance, while our post WWII institutions that gave a few decades of stability are creaking in our digital age. It’s a beautiful short-hand, which I think I’ll adopt. Also as the replacement pseudo stability it brings is already held up and communicated as a net positive.

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