Not at all a Jackpot
This dystopian thriller was nothing but a disappointment
Full transparency: I love a dystopian novel, especially the kind with a strong female lead. I love science fiction. I love a tale of time travel or multiverses. I thoroughly enjoyed Lisa Joy and John Nolan's adaptation of Westworld so after seeing something like 800 previews from Amazon Prime I determined it better to read the source material before watching their new show The Peripheral. It was a decision I lived to regret.
This book took me three months (almost to the day) to read. At 496 pages, that's still forever. I spent the majority of that time on just the first 30% of the book because I could not bribe myself to get into this.
Gibson's writing style is distinct. Channeling his inner Ernest Hemingway, Gibson's sentences and chapters are short with little to no "fluff" included. He leaves off attribution on sentences or at best will go through entire multi-character conversations with only pronouns. As a result, it was incredibly difficult in writing to understand who was talking in conversations. For the first third of the book or more I was constantly confusing Flynne and Lowbeer or Netherton and Burton.
This is compounded by the fact that each of the short chapters switches between different characters in different times and universes. There is no notice to the user and I spent the majority of the beginning of the book just trying to figure out where I was and who was talking, let alone why it mattered.
As a result, I didn't care about any of the characters. I didn't understand why I should. Flynne is meant to be the Katniss-style provider for her poor Appalachian family. She's spending all of her energy just trying to hold everyone together. Playing VR games is the only joy she finds for herself. However, this backstory is largely left to the sidelines as we are thrown into the action of this beta testing that she is on. Even when she or any of the other characters were facing life-threatening situations, I found myself apathetic towards their plight. This lack of emotional investment made it very difficult to engage with the story on a deeper level. Finally, the pacing was incredibly slow. While some may appreciate a leisurely build-up, I found myself growing increasingly bored as the story dragged on. By the time anything of substance happened, I was already so disinterested that I didn't care what was going on. The reason that it took me so long to read this one is that I finally had to force myself to sit down with it just so that I could move on to hopefully better stories.
Overall, this was a huge disappointment for me. I wish that I had just watched the TV show. I suspect I actually would have enjoyed the story so much more because I wouldn't be confused about who the characters are or spend so much time just trying to understand the tech that is being described. The book was a lackluster experience. The confusing world-building, lack of emotional investment in the characters, stilted dialogue, and slow pacing all contributed to my disappointment. If you already love Gibson and his style, then you might enjoy this, but if it's your first foray into his work I'd suggest starting elsewhere.