The Peripheral by William Gibson (2014) (read in 2019)
Published by marco on
Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.
The story starts with Burton and Flynne, a brother and sister living in the midwest of an alternate near-future United States. The characteristics of the U.S. have other names and are slightly more exaggerated, but it’s clearly recognizable (e.g. the chain-store Goliath is called Hefty). Burton has recently gotten a contract with a powerful Colombian corporation called Milagros Coldiron. Burton is “playing a game” for them, but it seems more like running security via drone. When Burton is due to be out of town, Flynne subs for him, witnessing what looks for all the world like a nanobot-murder. This does not strike them as strange, as video-gaming for pay is common in their world as-is advanced graphics and secret beta-testing.
We meet Ash and Ossian and Wilf Netherton, Lev, the scion of a Russian klept family and Ainsley Lowbeer, an officer of British Law and ancient secret agent. They contact Flynne directly to find out what happened. It turns out to be a bit more complicated than it at first seems. The “video game” that Burton and Flynne thought they were playing was, in fact, a real-life security detail for the party of one Aelita, sister to performance artist Daedra, ex-fling of Netherton. All of these people are from a future decades away from Flynne and Burton and from a completely different continuum.
The future world is one in which climate change has taken its toll in 80% of the human population. Most animals are gone. From the ashes rose neo-feudalism.
Science improved drastically. Stymied certain problems, like the complete and utter inefficacy of antibiotics. Others it could do nothing about. Technology took off (but too late, as we already know it will be), with “peripheral” technology (people using remote bodies) and “assemblers” (nanotechnology) and “klepts” (quasi-monarchies that are the only power centers left).
The centers are in London and “China” (in quotes because they don’t get any more specific than that). There are also “stubs”, which is where Flynne and Burton’s continuum resides. A stub is an alternative reality accessible through a super-secret and highly shielded Chinese server. The mere act of connecting to the stub, of opening it, changes it irrevocably so that it will never lead to the future that is accessing it.
Essentially, the folks of the alternative future want Flynne’s help in identifying the man who was with Aelita when she was killed. Because of the exclusivity of the party, there were no recordings made, so her eyewitness testimony is the only thing that Lowbeer has by way of evidence. The complexly woven structures of power balance and ancient laws and customs of the future make an eyewitness essential—even when they already pretty much know who it was. It will shift the balance of power positively if Flynne can help them.
They get Flynne a peripheral in the future (no mention is made of how they secure the connection or how much data it can carry or … anything. It’s better this way). Her brother’s friend Connor also gets one, as does her brother, Burton. In Flynne’s world, things are moving quickly as well. The movements of Lowbeer’s group in the financial markets are becoming noticeable—and there is another entity from the same future, trying to kill them all and erase the remaining witness (Flynne). Their conflicting movements in the world financial markets and in all levels of politics are having a strong effect and threaten to throw Flynne’s entire world into a cocked hat.
Flynne’s “builder” friend Macon is gifted and works well with Ash, who provides him with schematics for printing machines and devices that will enable them to communicate with the “future” better. The more money they get, the more members of the deeply impoverished community of friends and family they drag in with them.
As always with Gibson, he is the master of subtly revealing tremendous detail about a world that feels familiar—obviously derived, or derivable, from ours—but is different in nearly every way. He does this mostly through clever and unutterably cool dialogue. Every character is cool, but also flawed enough to make it seem less ridiculous than when others do it.
It’s like he finds the coolness in everyone—which is fair, because who wants to write a book about morons? Still, it doesn’t feel as contrived as so many other authors—the only conceit is that he invariably writes about groups of people that include at least one member who is so overwhelmingly wealthy that money is never an issue (in this case Lev Zubov, whose wealth and influence “profiles like a medium-sized nation” and Ainsley Lowbeer, who is ancient and privy to every bit of knowledge). While others in the group might be struggling, their coolness enables them of use to and under the aegis of the rich and powerful.
Lowbeer has some of the best lines. When asked if she knows everything, she responds:
“I most certainly don’t. I feel hindered by a surfeit of information, oceanic to the point of meaninglessness. The shortcomings of the system are best understood as the result of taking this ocean of data, and the decision points produced by our algorithms, as a near enough substitute for perfect certainty. My own best results are often due to pretending I know relatively little, and acting accordingly, though it’s easier said than done. Far easier. (Emphasis added.)”
Another interesting aspect of so much of the story being told in dialogue is Gibson’s representation of 70 years being far too large a gap for most idiomatic speech to have survived. In that sense, it’s more like a first contact between alien cultures, but with the benefit of having more touchstones. They have a shared language, but only a subset, to which both sides must adhere—or run the risk of having to explain too many concepts and too much vocabulary. In that way, it’s not unlike native speakers and speakers-of-a-second-language. It works well enough, but you have to adjust, at least at first.
There are a lot of interesting reveals (people in the alternate past who correspond to people in the alternate future) and, once the dust settles and the future folk have defeated their corresponding nemeses in both future and past, they all get down to the business of avoiding the “jackpot” that more-or-less doomed the future to a high-tech feudalism that’s more miserable than it looks, on the surface.
It’s pretty upbeat, actually; very Hollywood: good guys win, get all the money in the world, the planet is on a better path. The bad guys are more relegated than destroyed, but they’re definitely declawed. It’s kind of a fairy tale about the only way to save our planet from being even more of the way it is in the near future: an alternate version of ourselves reaches back over time (still inexplicably, because the tech for doing so isn’t explained at all) to deliver the technological solution that we’re all relying on to save us—because we aren’t going to do it with discipline.
Gibson gets some digs in on popular culture and those who benefit from it, much more obliquely and unobtrusively than others. Flynne ruminates on Daedra, the flighty and arrogant quasi-performance artist from the U.S. of the future:
“Seemed like a cross between a slightly porny media star and what sophomore year Art History called a performance artist, plus maybe a kind of diplomat.”
When Flynne then asks if she’s like a reality-show start, Wilf answers:
““Yes. She’s descended from that, in a sense. Reality television. It merged with politics. Then with performance art.” They walked on.”
To which Flynne manages to comment on the current-timeline United States without even seeming to do so.
““I think that already happened, back home,” she said.”
In the same thought, Gibson sideswipes the U.S. (Connor is basically decent, but more than a little an off-the-rails and shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later guy),
“But she still didn’t get what the United States did either, in Wilf’s world. He made it sound like the nation-state equivalent of Conner, minus the sense of humor, but she supposed that might not be so far off, even today. (Emphasis added.)”
This is a first-contact story. It doesn’t even matter that it’s the past, or, more precisely, a different timeline’s past. It’s a way of telling a feel-good story about a down-on-its-luck pocket of America benefitting from the munificence of Gibson’s standard cabal of shadowy, eccentric, surprisingly ethical and nearly incomprehensibly wealthy, powerful, and well-connected characters. It’s similar in that way to Pattern Recognition.
“Her head was perfectly still, eyes unblinking. He imagined her ego swimming up behind them, to peer at him suspiciously, something eel-like, larval, transparently boned. He had its full attention.”
““We’re not supposed to like their looks, obviously. The cannibalism’s problematic, if those stories are true, but they did clear the water column, and for virtually no capital outlay on anyone’s part. And they now arguably own the world’s single largest chunk of recycled polymer. Which feels like a country, to me, if not yet a nation-state.””
“She rode to Jimmy’s, letting the hub do most of the work. Went in and sat at the counter, ordered eggs and bacon and toast, no coffee. In the Red Bull mirror behind the counter, the cartoon bull noticed her, winked. She dodged eye contact. She hated it when they spoke to you, called you by your name.”
He’d wanted to impress her, and what better way than to offer her something money couldn’t buy? Something that had felt to him like a ghost story, when Lev had first explained it.
He’d told her about it in bed. “And they’re dead?” she’d asked.
“A long time ago?”
“Before the jackpot.”
“But alive, in the past?”
“Not the past. When the initial connection’s made, that didn’t happen, in our past. It all forks, there. They’re no longer headed for this, so nothing changes, here.”
“My bed?” She spread her arms and legs, smiled.
“Our world. History. Everything.”
“And he hires them?”
“What does he pay them with?”
“Money. Coin of their realm.”
“How does he get it? Does he go there?”
“You can’t go there. Nobody can. But information can be exchanged, so money can be made there.”
“Who did you say this is?”
“Lev Zubov. We were at school together.”
“Family’s old klept. Lev’s the youngest. Man-child of leisure. Has hobbies, Lev. This is his latest.”
“Why haven’t I heard of it before?”
“It’s new. It’s quiet. Lev looks for new things, things his family might invest in. He thinks this one may be out of Shanghai. Something to do with quantum tunneling.”
“How far back can they go?”
“Twenty twenty-three, earliest. He thinks something changed, then; reached a certain level of complexity. Something nobody there had any reason to notice.”
“Remind me of it later.” She reached for him.
On the walls, the framed flayed hides of three of her most recent selves. Her newest skin beneath him, unwritten.
This is about as good an example of typical Gibson inscrutability as I’ll ever see. He introduces so much background with so few words, making your mind fill in the details of his sketch of a rich alternate reality.
““They want to kill a dead man in a past that effectively doesn’t exist?” Netherton asked. “Why? You’ve always said that nothing that happens there can affect us.”
““Information,” Lev said, “flows both ways. Someone must believe he knows something. Which, were it available here, would pose a danger to them.””
“But there the polt had been, driving, eyes on whatever motorway, seventy-some years earlier, on the far side of the jackpot, his phone something clamped to the dashboard of his car. The polt had had a very broad chest, in a thin white singlet, and was, or so it had struck Netherton in the moment, entirely human. Gloriously pre-posthuman. In a state of nature.”
“It would have been less wise to tell the polt that they were phoning from a future that wasn’t his, one in which he was part of a wealthy obsessive’s hobby set, but hardly more unnecessary.”
The “stub” seems to be some sort of interface to an alternate timeline.
““It’s a gamelike environment,” he said. “It isn’t real in the sense that…”
“There had been a Flynne Fisher in the world’s actual past. If she were alive now, she’d be much older. Though given the jackpot, and whatever odds of survival, that seemed unlikely. But since Lev had only touched her continuum for the first time a few months earlier, this Flynne would still be very like the real Flynne, the now old or dead Flynne, who’d been this young woman before the jackpot, then lived into it, or died in it as so many had. She wouldn’t yet have been changed by Lev’s intervention and whatever that would bring her.”
“She looked at it, from seventy-some years before, in a past that was no longer quite the one that had produced his world, and nodded.”
““Someone else has access. It stands to reason that whoever it is is better connected than we are, since we’ve absolutely no idea how to get into anyone else’s stub.””
“[Lev:] “You know about the server?”
“[Lowbeer:] “The great mystery, yes. Assumed to be Chinese, and as with so many aspects of China today, quite beyond us. You use it to communicate with the past, or rather a past, since in our actual past, you didn’t. That rather hurts my head, Mr. Zubov. I gather it doesn’t hurt yours?”
““Far less than the sort of paradox we’re accustomed to culturally, in discussing imaginary transtemporal affairs,” said Lev. “It’s actually quite simple. The act of connection produces a fork in causality, the new branch causally unique. A stub, as we call them.””
““Who called you?” Burton asked, seated behind Tommy, in the Faraday cage where they put prisoners.
““State AI. Satellite noticed the vehicle hadn’t moved for two hours. Also flagged your property for unusual drone activity, but I told ’em that was you and your friends playing games.””
Apt description of a hyperactive surveillance state.
““What have you got listening in, Wilf? It’s enormous. It’s giving my security the cold grue.”
““That would be the family of the friend I’m staying with.”
““He lives in a garage?”
““He has one. Or rather his father does. It goes down and down. And so does their security, evidently.”
““It profiles like a medium-sized nation.”
““That would be them.”
““Is that a problem?” she asked.
““Not so far.””
““Lotta redundancies. Obvious workarounds. We’re being paid to build something they have the real plans for, but we’re building it out of available parts that approximate that, plus other parts we print. Plus some other available parts we modify, print on.” He’d taken his Viz out and put it in his pocket, as had Macon. Professional courtesy.”
Their plans are from the future and must be downscaled to work in the past,
“He’d asked the rental to lead because he had no way, really, of knowing that it was Rainey. Sigils, he knew, could be spoofed. For that matter, he supposed, he had no way of knowing that this was a peripheral. On the other hand, it sounded like her. Not the voice, of course, but it had her manner.”
““The skulls are modular. Printed bone, assembled with biological adhesives. The structural strength of an average skull, but capable of disassembly.”
““Why is that?” asked Netherton, who just then found peripherals steadily less pleasant the more he learned of them.”
Like the hosts of Westworld.
“They both knew she knew this was bullshit, but she guessed that was the way it went, when somebody you knew killed some people and you didn’t want them to get caught for it. They were teaching her the story as it needed to be told, and telling it to her in a way that wouldn’t require her to tell anything but the truth about what they’d told her.”
““If this works, and it should, you’ll be controlling their unit full-body, full range of motion, but your body won’t move as you do it. Interesting, how it does that.”
““Because we still can’t find any patents for most of it, and we imagine if there were, they’d be valuable. Very.””
This is a first-contact story. It doesn’t even matter that it’s the past, or, more precisely, a different timeline’s past. It’s a way of telling a feel-good story about a down-on-its-luck pocket of America benefitting from the munificence of Gibson’s standard cabal of shadowy, eccentric, surprisingly ethical and nearly incomprehensively wealthy, powerful, and well-connected characters. It’s similar in that way to Pattern Recognition.
““You’re accessing input from an anthropomorphic drone,” the woman said. “A telepresence avatar. You needn’t consciously control it. Don’t try. We’re recalibrating it now. Macon’s device isn’t perfect, but it works.””
““This isn’t,” he said, “your world.”
““So what is it?” asked Flynne. “A game?”
““The future,” said Netherton, feeling utterly ridiculous. On impulse, he added the year.
““But it isn’t your future,” he said. “When we made contact, we set your world, your universe, whatever it is—”
““Continuum,” said Ash.
““—on a different course,” he finished. He’d never in his life said anything that sounded more absurd, though it was, as far as he knew, the truth.”
““Okay,” [Burton] said, and [Flynne] wondered if what she was seeing in his eyes was the Corps’ speed, intensity, violence of action, or his right way of seeing. Because he just got it. Ignored the crazy, went tactically forward. And she saw how weird that was, and how much it was who he was, and for just that instant she wondered if she didn’t somehow have it too.”
““It isn’t real,” he said. “Worked up from period media. Scarcely anyone you see is human, and those who are, are tourists, or schoolchildren being taught history. Better at night, the illusion.””
“perhaps.” She smiled, but not in any way Flynne found comforting.
““Zubov, you should understand, will pervert the economy of your world.”
““It’s pretty fucked anyway,” Flynne said, then wished she’d put it another way.
““I’m familiar with it, so yes, it is, though that isn’t what I mean. I don’t like what these people are doing, these continua hobbyists, Zubov included, though I do find it fascinating. Some might think you more real than I am myself.”
““What does that mean?”
““I’m very old, elaborately and artificially so. I don’t feel entirely real to myself, frankly. But if you agree to assist me, I shall assist you in return, insofar as I can.””
““Thank you,” he said. “You’re easily the most remarkable artist I’ve ever met, Daedra.” Her eyebrows moved fractionally. Not so much approval as a temporary recognition that he might have the capacity to be correct about something.”
““It’s been a huge help,” he said. “What are you asking me for, Wilf?” “That you allow me to introduce you to her. Again. That I might contribute, in however small a way, to something whose importance I may never fully comprehend.””
“People think the really bad ones are something special, but they’re not,” her mother said, sitting on the edge of her bed, next to the table crowded with meds. “Psycho killers and rapists, they never ruin as many lives as a man like Corbell does. His daddy was a town councilman. Stuck-up boy, Corbell, selfish, but no more than lots that age. Thirty-some years on, he’s ruined more people than he can be bothered to remember, or even know.””
““It did seem to me that you set the hook. Assuming, that is, that she’s so self-centered as to be literally impaired. I don’t feel I can afford to be quite so readily convinced of that. Perhaps you shouldn’t either, Mr. Netherton.””
I love how Lowbeer speaks
““Know what ‘collateral damage’ means?”
““People get hurt because they happen to be near something that somebody needs to happen?”
““Think that’s us,” he said. “None of this is happening because any of us are who we are, what we are. Accident, or it started with one, and now we’ve got people who might as well be able to suspend basic laws of physics, or anyway finance, doing whatever it is they’re doing, whatever reason they’re doing it for. So we could get rich, or killed, and it would all still just be collateral.””
““I personally recall that world, which you can only imagine was preferable to this one,” [Lowbeer] said. “Eras are conveniences, particularly for those who never experienced them. We carve history from totalities beyond our grasp. Bolt labels on the result. Handles. Then speak of the handles as though they were things in themselves.””
““If one has a sufficiently open mind about it, certainly. I was an intelligence officer, early in my career. In a sense I suppose I still am, but today I find myself enabled to undertake investigations, as I see fit. Into, should I so deem them, matters of state security. Simultaneously, I’m a law enforcement officer, or whatever that means in as frank a kleptocracy as ours. I sometimes feel like an antibody, Mr. Netherton. One protecting a disease.””
“And in fact the actual climate, the weather, caused by there being too much carbon, had been the driver for a lot of other things. How that got worse and never better, and was just expected to, ongoing. Because people in the past, clueless as to how that worked, had fucked it all up, then not been able to get it together to do anything about it, even after they knew, and now it was too late.”
“No comets crashing, nothing you could really call a nuclear war. Just everything else, tangled in the changing climate: droughts, water shortages, crop failures, honeybees gone like they almost were now, collapse of other keystone species, every last alpha predator gone, antibiotics doing even less than they already did, diseases that were never quite the one big pandemic but big enough to be historic events in themselves. And all of it around people: how people were, how many of them there were, how they’d changed things just by being there.”
“So everything, however deeply fucked in general, was lit increasingly by the new, by things that made people blink and sit up, but then the rest of it would just go on, deeper into the ditch. A progress accompanied by constant violence, he said, by sufferings unimaginable. She felt him stretch past that, to the future where he lived, then pull himself there, quick, unwilling to describe the worst of what had happened, would happen.”
“A majority of empowered survivors, considering the jackpot, and no doubt their own positions, wanted none of that. Blamed it, in fact.”
““Who runs it, then?”
““Oligarchs, corporations, neomonarchists. Hereditary monarchies provided conveniently familiar armatures. Essentially feudal, according to its critics. Such as they are.”
““The King of England?”
““The City of London,” he said. “The Guilds of the City. In alliance with people like Lev’s father. Enabled by people like Lowbeer.”
““The whole world’s funny?”
“She remembered Lowbeer saying that.
““The klept,” he said, misunderstanding her, “isn’t funny at all.””
Eighty percent dead. Most animals. Science improved drastically. Stymied certain problems, like antibiotics. Others it could do nothing about. From the ashes rose feudality. China and the West.
“Mrs. Fearing’s extraordinary topography of wrinkles readjusted slightly. A smile, possibly.”
“Hybrid, Wilf said. Something Amazonian, something Indian, and the assemblers to push it all. The bark was like the skin of elephants, finer-textured on the twisted roots.”
What about funneling that tech back to the past?
“He stopped, reading something she couldn’t see. “Yes. She’s descended from that, in a sense. Reality television. It merged with politics. Then with performance art.” They walked on. “I think that already happened, back home,” she said.”
“Subtle dig. Very nice. Easily overlooked.”
“The tall thing’s round pink head was fronted with a sort of squared-off trumpet, that same pink, through which it blared down, incomprehensibly, at the small crowd of figures surrounding it, at least one of which seemed to be a penguin, though as tall as she was. The tall speaker wore a tight black suit, its arms and legs very narrow.”
This imagery reminds of the teachers from The Wall.
““Consider ignoring the placards our rent-a-zealots are displaying,” he said. “They were designed by an agency that specializes in political attack ads, and are specifically intended to upset you personally, while turning the community against you.””
““Consider ignoring the placards our rent-a-zealots are displaying,” he said.
““They were designed by an agency that specializes in political attack ads, and are specifically intended to upset you personally, while turning the community against you.”
““The other guys put them up to it?”
““Luke 4:5 are as much a business as a cult. As tends to be the case.””
“There were, for instance, Ash said, continua enthusiasts who’d been at it for several years longer than Lev, some of whom had conducted deliberate experiments on multiple continua, testing them sometimes to destruction, insofar as their human populations were concerned.”
“I made a few discreet inquiries. Now anyone I asked about her, however privately, no longer knows me. Retroactively. Never have. Some have gone to the trouble of scrubbing me from group images. As metrics of caution go, that one’s telling.”
““How would you stop it?”
““By letting her know I’m not going to the party with you, if they do that. They use it, we smash up the crowns, print new phones with different numbers, and pretend you guys don’t exist. Whatever shit comes down, we deal with it. And fuck you. Not you personally. You guys.”
““You tell her. She wants to talk to me, I’m right here. But they put any party time on those sorry assholes across the road, you’re going to that party alone. Me and my family, we’ll be out of the future business.””
““Lowbeer knows how to fix history?”
““It isn’t history yet, here. She knows, in large part, what really happened here. But now the two have diverged, will continue to. The divergence can be steered, to some extent, but only very broadly. No guarantee of what we’ll ultimately produce.””
““Do you,” Netherton asked, “know literally everything, about everyone?”
““I most certainly don’t. I feel hindered by a surfeit of information, oceanic to the point of meaninglessness. The shortcomings of the system are best understood as the result of taking this ocean of data, and the decision points produced by our algorithms, as a near enough substitute for perfect certainty. My own best results are often due to pretending I know relatively little, and acting accordingly, though it’s easier said than done. Far easier.””
“She sipped her gin. “As it can all too often seem to be. Waking, I find I must remind myself how the world is now, how it became that way, the role I played in what it became and the role I play today. That I’ve lived on, absurdly long, in the ever-increasing recognition of my mistakes.”
““I suppose I shouldn’t call them that, realistically. Tactically, strategically, in terms of available outcomes, I did the best I could. Rather better, sometimes, it can feel, even today. Civilization was dying, of its own discontents. We live today in the result of what I and so many others did to prevent that. You yourself have known nothing else.””
“And seventy-some years on from the year of celebration, he sat at Lev’s grandfather’s desk in the Gobiwagen, the band of the Wheelie-emulator across his forehead, looking back through this clumsy toy at this strange world, in which worn things weren’t meticulously distressed, but actually worn, abraded by their passage through time.”
““But she was Raeburn then,” said Flynne. “Now.” She was looking at the white tray but not seeing it. Seeing Lowbeer’s hand instead, holding her hat against their quadcopter’s downdraft in the Cheapside street, and Griff’s hands, arranging the Sushi Barn food. “Shit,” she said, then said it again, more softly.”
““You’re someone who only pretends to be unintelligent,” Netherton said. “It serves you simultaneously as protective coloration and a medium for passive aggression. It won’t work with me.”
““Future’s fucking snippy,” said Leon, to Tacoma. “I didn’t come out here to be abused by vintage product from the Hefty toy department.””
“She still wasn’t sure how Daedra made her living, or what her relationship with the United States government was. Seemed like a cross between a slightly porny media star and what sophomore year Art History called a performance artist, plus maybe a kind of diplomat. But she still didn’t get what the United States did either, in Wilf’s world. He made it sound like the nation-state equivalent of Conner, minus the sense of humor, but she supposed that might not be so far off, even today.”
““Griff. Becomes her. But not exactly. Like this isn’t her past anymore, so he won’t have her life, because none of this happened to her when she was him.”
“She started walking.
““You somehow seem,” he said, “to simply accept all these things.”
““You’re the one living in the future, with nanobots eating people, spare bodies, government run by kings and gangsters and shit. You accept all that, right?”
““No,” he said, just before she ducked through, into Hong’s kitchen, “I don’t. I hate it.””
“And then they were single-filing the stairway, Ossian behind her.
““What’s Conner doing to her?” she asked, over her shoulder.
““Reminding her of the potential of consequences, at least,” said Ossian, “or attempting to. Won’t harm a hair on her head, of course. Or do a bit of good. Father’s a big American.””
“Coldiron actually had less money now, way less, because as soon as Matryoshka had stumbled, then collapsed, cut off from Sir Henry’s financial modules, Coldiron had started to divest, to get the economy back to something more normal, whatever that meant now. But they still had more money than anyone could understand, or really keep track of. And Griff said that that was good, because they had plenty that needed to be done with it, more than they could know.”
“Because people who couldn’t imagine themselves capable of evil were at a major disadvantage in dealing with people who didn’t need to imagine, because they already were. She’d said it was always a mistake, to believe those people were different, special, infected with something that was inhuman, subhuman, fundamentally other. Which had reminded her of what her mother had said about Corbell Picket. That evil wasn’t glamorous, but just the result of ordinary half-assed badness, high school badness, given enough room, however that might happen, to become its bigger self. Bigger, with more horrible results, but never more than the cumulative weight of ordinary human baseness.”