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  • “Anthropomorphic Drones” and Colonized Bodies:William Gibson’s The Peripheral
  • Anna McFarlane (bio)

William gibson is known as “the godfather of cyberpunk” and is most well known for his part in revitalizing science fiction in the 1980s, particularly with his influential debut novel Neuromancer (1984) in which he coined the term “cyberspace” and wrote about virtual reality in terms of a “matrix” that inhabitants would experience as spatial and visual.1 Gibson tends to write in trilogies, as his first nine novels show. These series—the Sprawl, the Bridge, and the Blue Ant trilogies—are set in three different time periods and are populated by characters who reappear from one book to the next. Each trilogy moves closer to our contemporary time; the Sprawl trilogy (1984 to 1988) is set in a future very far ahead of the 1980s milieu in which it appeared, while the Bridge trilogy (1993 to 1999) depicts San Francisco in a more recognizable near future, albeit after devastating earthquakes that have left many of the city’s citizens living on the remains of the Golden Gate Bridge. The Blue Ant trilogy (2003 to 2010) began with 2003’s Pattern Recognition set in 2002, the first of Gibson’s novels [End Page 115] to be set almost contemporaneously with the time of publication and the closest thing to a realist novel that Gibson has yet produced. The Blue Ant trilogy went on to explore the contemporary world while drawing on science fiction. Given this pattern in Gibson’s writing habits, 2014’s The Peripheral can be considered a new work, set in a separate universe from any of Gibson’s previous novels.2 However, in terms of its philosophical position, The Peripheral is the continuation of a career-long trajectory. Gibson’s work is consistently concerned with the relationship of the individual to society and the interface between the two as mediated through the senses. The Sprawl trilogy and the Bridge trilogy privilege vision as the most important of the senses, particularly in cyberspace where the body is left behind and virtual reality is experienced as a gaze on the spatialized landscape of cyberspace. Pattern Recognition (2003), the first novel in the Blue Ant trilogy that went on to include Spook Country (2007) and Count Zero (2010), begins to resituate the body and specifically the haptic as key to engaging with the world while The Peripheral takes this philosophical journey further, privileging the haptic (which refers to the sense of touch in the same way that “optic” refers to the sense of vision) as a key site of phenomenological engagement.

The increasing importance of the haptic and of affect more generally are crucial to understanding the development of the politics in Gibson’s novels. The detachment and individualism of disembodied vision in cyberspace is increasingly tempered by the haptic and affective that demand characters recognize their interdependence as embodied beings in a shared world. This turn to the haptic therefore offers a new ecocritical politics that changes the ways in which the future is depicted, reacting to the threats of climate change, remote warfare, and the increasing financialization of the global economy. Once again Gibson is contributing to the direction of science fiction as a genre and as a literary technique by asking what we need from the future and how science fiction can serve this need. Faced with these multiple threats, which do not just endanger the direction of the future but the very concept of futurity, Gibson responds with a kind of science fiction that emphasizes the interdependence of the individual, society, and ecology through affective environments. These affective ecologies are usefully understood through affect theory, which attempts to think about [End Page 116] intuitions and unconscious autonomic responses to the environment in a move based on the theories of Gilles Deleuze. “Affect Studies,” as Robert Seyfert describes, “captures the situational nature of affect in conceptualizing affects, as emerging at the moment when bodies meet, affecting the bodies involved in the encounter, and marking the transformation/s of the bodies” (29). This means that “affects” can include haptics, the focus of my attention here, as well as emotions; these are key elements in...


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pp. 115-131
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