In Novelist William Gibson’s New Imagined Alternate Reality, Hillary Won

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 12:40 pm, April 27, 2017

William Gibson, the famously prophetic author who popularized the cyberpunk genre of literary fiction with Neuromancer and Mona Lisa Overdrive, is delving once again into the realm of dystopian sci-fi with a new novel in which Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election.

William Gibson

In his new novel Agency, Gibson imagines an alternate reality that takes place in a contemporary world in which voters elected Hillary, and a post-apocalyptic (and undoubtedly post-Brexit) London set 200 years into the future.

The present-day elements of the book center around a young woman named Verity, who’s experimented on by a shadowy organization with something called a “cross-platform personal avatar,” a form of artificial intelligence. The future portions of Agency feature the development of time travel technology, which is used to alter history.

The characters from the distant future interfere with the present day by digitally communicating with the past. In other words, it’s like 12 Monkeys, but with politics—and a distinct lack of physical time travel.

Speaking to the New York Times, Gibson said that his book was written as an unplanned sequel to his 2014 novel The Peripheral, which also features a post-apocalyptic London. He says that the stories in Agency and The Peripheral intersected unexpectedly during the election, because he expected Hillary to win.

The Peripheral

“I assumed that if Trump won, I’d be able to shift a few things and continue to tell my story,” said the author, who eventually came to the realization that he had to “rebuild the whole thing” due to the election outcome. He told the Times that he revived the time-travel mechanism he created in The Peripheral and applied it to Agency, by making the world in which Clinton won a “stub,” or an alternative branch of reality caused by interference from a time traveler.

Gibson says he doesn’t like being called prescient, because doesn’t want his bleak vision of the post-apocalyptic future to come to pass. “Every imaginary future ever written is about the time it was written. People talk about science fiction’s predictive possibilities, but that’s a by-product. It’s all really about now.”

Gibson’s political alignment is unambiguously anti-Trump. Last July the award-winning author declared: “To not vote for Clinton *is* to vote for the candidate Putin and David Duke so badly wants you to. It’s a raggedy-ass world, that way.” He also described Trump as an “absurd clown-penis demagogue, spouting racist batshit.”

His Twitter timeline is filled with invective towards Trump and retweets of the administration’s detractors. Despite this, Gibson’s political views appear to be more nuanced than the members of the so-called anti-Trump “Resistance” as he has never appeared to vilify Clinton’s opponents as a “basket of deplorables” that spoiled her chances in the months prior to the election.

It’s unclear how life under a Hillary Clinton presidency will play out in Agency, which is due out in 2018. There’s a good chance it’s every bit as dystopian as the world in which her die-hard supporters imagine we live.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.