This is the latest novel by William Gibson. It’s set in early 2006; there is some overlap with the penultimate Pattern Recognition. It doesn’t depart substantially from the Gibson idiom. I liked it a whole lot, but I was cheating.
Just the Facts · The central plot device is, as in almost every other Gibson work, three small groups of characters pursuing story-threads in parallel (very close parallel in one case). Hubertus Bigend and Blue Ant are back, and the enigmatic magnate retains the services of a troubled woman to pursue a poorly-defined goal. Gibson’s done this before, twice; but Hollis Henry is stronger and less fucked-up than either Marly Kruschkova or Cayce Pollard, which makes her (for me anyhow) more empathetic. Also Bigend has become less menacing and oblique; it becomes evident fairly early on what he’s trying to do, and he acts sometimes like a merely-human marketing pro. “Spook” in the title refers to espionage trade-craft, very much, I thought, in the Le Carré style, which is good. But the spooks come from somewhere else entirely; entirely surprising, but plausible. Kind of like, um, good sci-fi is supposed to be.
There’s a new and perfectly believable art-form proposed. Impressive.
There’s some clinical-yet-heartfelt taking-down of the Republican maggot-brains currently raping the United States’ civic landscape; an easy target, granted, but still pleasurable to read, and well-done.
The plot is kind of ridiculous, actually. I could go on for pages nit-picking, particularly the Brown party: why he keeps Milgrim around to the end, why he’s so easily fooled by Tito’s gang, and there’s more. Who cares? It moves right along and the language is beautiful and the characters are interesting, which is what ought to matter in a book. Also, this plot does not involve any particularly cosmic consequences for history or the Internet; there are no “nodal points”. Which I appreciated; it makes for a more human scale.
Cheating · You might perhaps not want to rely too heavily on my opinion of Gibson’s books in general and this one in particular. First of all, the texture of his writing has always slid smoothly and pleasurably over the texture of my mind, so I’m predisposed to like anything he writes. As with a zillion other Eighties geeks, the Sprawl series set off fireworks in my head; they still do when I re-read ’em once every decade or so.
And this book in particular, well, the last quarter or so happens right here in Vancouver, right now. Gibson and I live in different neighborhoods; we work out at the same place about halfway between and, while we haven’t met, it seems that we enjoy the same parts of town. One of the nice things about his writing is the almost-hallucinatory vividness of the descriptions, the sense of place. When he was doing sci-fi, a scene would occur in a derelict space station or a robot car or a ruined landmark and the sense would be overwhelming that, yes, this is exactly what it would feel like to be in that place.
And I’ve actually been in pretty well all of the Vancouver spaces in this book; obviously some are not literal, but I’ve been where he got the ingredients from. And I’ve actually thought that parts of Strathcona and the Terminal Avenue wasteland and north Clark Drive had a kind of postmodern cyberpunky feel.
I don’t know, maybe for someone who doesn’t live here, that last quarter of the book might feel different, maybe less intense, than your typical Gibson denouement. For me, of course, it was twice as intense.
And then, like quite a few other subscribers, I was reading his writing about writing, and the little early-draft fragments, on his blog while Spook Country was under construction. It makes you feel bought-into the book before it even hits the shelves. Is there a lesson here for other authors?