Spook CountryNovember 30, 2007
pub. Putney Adult, 384 pp.
I find myself enjoying William Gibson’s books more and more as he continues to write, and this book was no exception.
Gibson, one if not the father of cyber-punk fiction, has mellowed significantly as he has developed as a writer much to my enjoyment. Furthermore, while many people would stop reading this review at the words ‘cyper-punk,’ that moniker doesn’t really fit his stories anymore, at least the ‘punk’ part anyway. And while his stories are no longer the edgy, action fueled romps that they used to be, his ideas are no less stimulating or thought provoking. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed his earlier books such as Neuromancer and Idoru, a lot, I just think he keeps getting better and better.
This trend began with Pattern Recognition, a great story about ‘cool hunting’ and the power of the crowd vs. individuality. Now, with Spook Country, Gibson has truly settled into a form of science fiction dealing with the ‘what-might-be-right-now’, instead of the ‘what-might-be-of-the-distant-future.’
This book is set in the same world as Pattern Recognition and follows three main narrative leads all circling around a mysterious shipping container and its cargo. We have Hollis Henry, the recognizable ex-singer of a semi-famous indie-rock band, now writing a story for what appears to be a developmental tech magazine, ostensibly about locative art – a form of virtual art installation all run through GPS and wireless networks. To her story we also add Tito, a young Russian/Cuban member of a crime family with extensive links to the intelligence community. And finally, we have Milgrim, a strung out drug addict being held captive and forced to work for Agent Brown, who in turn may or may not work for a government. At the center of all three stories is the techno-geek recluse Bobby Chombo who may be the key to why everyone is interested in the seemingly untrackable container.
Set two years in the past rather than the future, this story looks at the world of technology through the lens of what might be out there that we just don’t know about. Just how well can governments, or other bad guys find out about people on the street? It takes your nightmares of the loss of freedom and governmental spying and make them even more spookier. In a world where the Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Donald Kerr, recently said, “Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity; and it’s an idea that is deeply rooted in American culture… but in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity – or the appearance of anonymity – is quickly becoming a thing of the past,”(source) the themes and ideas strike even closer to home.
I found the story, while not a rip-roaring page turner, a well paced read and the characters well developed and genuinely interesting. But again it is the underpinnings of technology and its use, acceptance, and ubiquity that ultimately kept me engrossed. The juxtaposition of very cool technology utilization in art and culture against the privacy-threatening, invasive intelligence gathering aspects of some of the very same technology is something that Gibson explores better than almost anyone else.