Review: Spook Country

I’m a Gibson fan. I came up through the whole Cyberpunk thing – part of the reason I embraced the internet so readily – and followed onwards through the rest of his books as he became a publicly acceptable ‘important author’ rather than ‘just’ a science fiction author. Aside from a few short stories and things here and there I’ve read everything he’s put out from Burning Chrome to this, Spook Country.Spook Country follows several different threads of stories and picks up on and carries along with a few bits and pieces from his previous novel, Pattern Recognition, which I loved and which suggests this may be part of a loose ‘trilogy’ much like his Cyberpunk trilogy (Neuromancer/Count Zero/Mona Lisa Overdrive) and his near-future trilogy (Virtual Light/Idoru/All Tomorrow’s Parties). This would seem to follow several patterns you can see in Gibson’s work…

  • Each trilogy of books gets ‘looser’ in the bonds between the books.
  • Each trilogy gets less ‘extreme’, SF to Near Future to ‘A Week Next Tuesday’ speculative fiction that is virtually a modern technothriller.
  • Each trilogy gets closer to realtime (or perhaps realtime is simply getting closer to the future?)

The main storyline follows Hollis Henry, a former member of a goth band, now working as a writer/reporter for a peculiarly fictional seeming magazine called ‘Node’ (The European Wired) run by Blue Ant and its ‘auteur’ CEO. Through investigations into ‘locational art’ (a combination of Virtual Reality and GPS technology) she ends up entangled in a web of events that lead her to uncovering something ‘interesting’ being undertaken by what amounts to a private spy service, something related to a particular shipping crate.
Other threads of the story follow former cold war cuban spooks and criminals and a drug addict called Milgram being held hostage by a grumpy and grizzled agent using him to translate electronic messages in a pidgin Russian electronic dialect. These separate threads wander in their own directions before coming together towards the end of the book and resolving themselves, though for most of the book you’re wondering how it is all going to come together.

Hubertus Bigend and Blue Ant are in the background the whole time, Bigend’s fetish for hidden information and knowledge apparently driving the whole enterprise and pushing Hollis into the ‘line of fire’ so to speak to scratch his intellectual itch, but we get no greater insight – really – into Bigend’s ‘game’ or his company than we have previously, leaving us only with the hope that in the speculative third novel that I theorise, we’ll get some sort of ‘big reveal’ as to what is actually going on. Between this and a relatively weak conclusion Spook Country is inferior to the previous novel Pattern Recognition but, if I’m right about the trilogy, could form the obvious lull before the conclusion – if I’m right.

Gibson seems to be searching for a new ‘angle’ on things, bringing his speculation back, closer to the present but still addressing the topics that seem to interest him, archaeotechnology, virtual reality, information technology and its social effects but, in the wake of reading Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis Gibson seems to have, relatively, lost his grip on the technosocial zeitgeist, perhaps even the Cyberpunk visionary has been unable to entirely keep up and in an environment where things go obsolete every six months to two years, is that really that surprising?

Score: 4/5

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