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Hollywood has fallen in love with multiverses and metaverses. The good thing about that is that we’re getting a pretty good idea on what the metaverse might be. And that’s why I’m happy to see The Peripheral coming to Prime Video on October 21.
The television series on Amazon’s video platform is based on The Peripheral, a novel by William Gibson, who — before Neal Stephenson coined the term “metaverse” in 1992 with Snow Crash — gave us the term “cyberspace” in his short story Burning Chrome (1982) and his first novel Neuromancer (1984).
Why is this important? Well, science fiction, tech, and games are all converging. Things we thought were sci-fi are becoming real. And this topic is one of those we’ll discuss with Stephenson himself at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit Next 2022 event in San Francisco on October 25-26.
Gibson’s The Peripheral debuted in 2014 with new ideas around immersive virtual reality, which makes you feel like you’ve been transported to another place and even another person’s body. I happened to read it recently in a science fiction book club. I got a look at the show, and I’ll have my thoughts soon.
The book is set in 2032, in an age where it’s possible to move from one version of time to another. It’s not just a kind of time travel. But it’s a point in time where you can move backward, change the events of the past, and create two or more different branches of time. One might go on to become reality, and the other might disappear as a truncated “stub” of time.
In the novel, Gibson just drops you into this situation and you have to figure it out. It depicts the lifestyle of some poor people in the future: Flynne Fisher (played by Chloe Grace Moretz), her Marine veteran brother, Burton (Jack Reynor), and their dying mother live in a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains in 2032.
As their mother’s health deteriorates and the medical bills add up, Flynne and Burton make extra money playing simulations (Sims). The two siblings share Burton’s avatar, “jockeying” for high-paying customers to beat challenging game levels. When Burton is offered a chance to beta test a new Sim, it’s Flynne who ends up playing, pretending to be her brother.
The Sim takes place in London and it tasks Flynne with breaking into a corporation known as the Research Institute — to steal a valuable secret. When the assignment goes badly wrong, Flynne begins to realize the Sim is more real than she thinks. And she’s just a pawn in a multi-timeline intrigue.
It sounds pretty complicated, but thanks to Marvel’s efforts to explain the “multiverse” to us with The Avenger series and Dr. Strange movies, audiences of today should be able to grasp the kind of story we have here. And it’s no surprise that the executive producers are Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan, the creators of Westworld, which has its own complicated timelines.
The Peripheral is produced by Amazon Studios and Warner Bros Television, in association with Kilter Films. The other executive producers for The Peripheral are creator and showrunner Scott B. Smith (A Simple Plan), director Vincenzo Natali (In the Tall Grass), Greg Plageman (Person of Interest), Athena Wickham (Westworld), and Steven Hoban (In the Tall Grass).
Gibson is also the author of Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties, Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, Zero History, Distrust That Particular Flavor, and Agency. The latter is set in the same universe as The Peripheral.