Novel Review: Spook Country

William Gibson made his name with the cyberpunk trilogy, written in the 1980s and set in the twenty-first century. Since the twenty-first century increasingly looks like something from a Gibson cyberpunk novel, he has been setting his recent work in the present. This novel follows Pattern Recognition. Although the two works share some characters, references, and plot elements, this is not in the usual sense a sequel.

“We’re all doing VR, every time we look at the screen. We have been for decades now…. But you can’t just do the locative with your nervous system. One day, you will. We’ll have internalized the interface. It’ll have evolved to the point where we forget about it. Then you’ll just walk down the street…” He spread his arms, and grinned at her.

“In Bobbyland,” she said.

“You got it.”

Title: Spook Country

Author: William Gibson
ISBN: 978-0-399-15430-0
First published: 2007.

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Various people connected to the cutting edge of contemporary technology track a mysterious package for conflicting reasons. Former indie darling Hollis Henry writes for Node, a shadowy magazine that does quite exist yet, and a story on locative art leads her to the trail of other secret, spooky matters. Meanwhile Brown, a professional spook who may or may not retain his connections to the American government follows a variation of the same trail, aided by a captive addict. Finally, a cabal of Chinese-Cuban spies also engage in secretive operations around the same MacGuffin.

High Point:

Gibson uses locative art (a significant plot element of Vernor Vinge’s recent Rainbows End, by which point it has become the mass media) as a metaphor for secrets, and the things that lurk beneath our workaday world. He continues to demonstrate an understanding of the technologies that will change our world, and describes them vividly.

In my review of Pattern Recognition, I said that Gibson makes our world feel like SF. It may be more correct to say that his vision of SF was prescient enough to predict certain aspects of our world with a surprising degree of accuracy.

Low Point:

Gibson has always been a strong writer, and stylistically, I believe he has only improved with time. Many chapters read like self-contained works of postcard fiction and, indeed, bits were published online at Gibson’s blog. Individually, the chapters represent the crafting of a brilliant, prescient writer. Collectively, the book did not consistently engage me. He’s written a thriller with comparatively little suspense and a novel of ideas that elicits relatively few big questions.

In all fairness, a third book will follow in this series, and it likely will change my perceptions of this one.

The Scores:

Originality: 4/6. We have some glimpses of the future manifest in the present, but little artistically that we can’t recognize from earlier work, most recently this novel’s predecessor.

Imagery: 6/6 .

Story: 4/6. See “High” and “Low” points.

Characterization: 6/6. Gibson creates believable characters.

Emotional Response: 4/6.

Editing: 5/6. A tricky category. I’ve already praised Gibson’s prose. The overall novel, however, features significant passages that could have been trimmed without harming the story or (as near as I can tell) character development.

Overall score: 5/6 This is a good novel by one of SF’s most literary writers, but it’s not his best.

In total, Spook Country receives 34/42