Gerund's Reviews > Spook Country

Spook Country by William Gibson
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Mar 12, 09

Read in September, 2007

In his seminal 1984 novel Neuromancer, Wiliam Gibson created a dystopic future that popularised the term cyberspace and inspired The Matrix. In his latest novel, Gibson again cooks up a brew of science fiction, this time in a more familiar era -- now.

Like his 2003 novel Pattern Recognition, the canvas is the globalised 21st century, and as the title sugests, it is haunted by spooks -- people who lurk on the periphery, from spies to simulacra.

You don't read Gibson for his prose, which tends towards run-of-the-mill pulp, the kind that uses movie stars and brand names as descriptive short cuts. But get past this, and you find yourself in a complex, seething world filled with quirky characters and mind-blowing concepts.

Thrown headlong into the melee is Hollis Henry, the former guitarist with a cult rock band turned intrepid journalist. She has been tasked with covering the "locative art" scene by a mysterious European magazine (that may or may not exist), owned by Hubertus Bigend, the powerful advertising mogul of Pattern Recognition.

In "locative art", artists create virtual sculptures that can only be seen while wearing special headgear, putting cyberspace in actual space and blurring the line between fiction and reality.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the continent, a teenager named Tito from a Cuban-Chinese counterfeiting family is given a series of mysterious missions that basically allows Gibson to write a thriller set in the underbelly of New York City.

Watching him covertly is Brown, an American spy of indeterminate loyalties, and his reluctant (that is, captive) translator Milgrim, a junkie tasked with translating Volapuk, the text-language used by the Russian-speaking family.

These three threads converge over the plot's McGuffin, a large, travelling crate of mysterious origin and contents which all parties are interested in for their own reasons.

What these reasons are, frankly, is irrelevant to the enjoyment of the plot. Instead, let yourself be caught up in the heady otherworld Gibson weaves, where the boundaries between the real and the virtual are routinely crossed.

Or those between life and death, for that matter -- one of the locative art artists, Alberto, specialises in the depictions of dead celebrities, from F. Scott Fitzgerald having a heart attack to River Phoenix collapsed outside the Viper Room.

As the artist says to Hollis, who herself has some idea of the ghost-like nature of celebrity: "The celebrity self has a life of its own. It can, under the right circumstances, indefintely survive the death of its subject. That's what every Elvis sighting is about, literally."

Spook Country reminds us that we are living on the edge. Even as we impatiently look to the future to surprise us, he shows us that that world is already here and all around us -- we're just not looking at it the right way.
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