Where am I?

Spook Country

August 12, 2007 at 12:01 PM | categories: home | View Comments

I've just finished William Gibson's latest. It's a good read, but it ranks well below Pattern Recognition or Idoru, or even All Tomorrow's Parties. Gibson still writes some of the most historically-aware prose that I've read. In previous novels, that historical grounding has allowed him to see well beyond current events. But the contemporaneity that started in Pattern Recognition has lowered his horizons still further, and Spook Country is the work of an author who wants to comment on last year, rather than shaping tomorrow.

I also found it hard to believe in Gibson's commercial independence, for the first half of the book. I've owned Macs continuously for the past 19 years, but I thought it was a little odd that the characters we're supposed to like best, Hollis and Tito, respectively tote a PowerBook and an iPod Nano through so many pages. Why are so many cars in the book made by Volkswagen? That seems especially strained considering that Blue Ant's choice of fleet vehicle is the Phaeton - already a dismal failure for VW a year before the book was published. Did Lester Young do radio spots for the Edsel?

But I digress. I always enjoy Gibson's reflections on the nature of celebrity, and it's easy to see his own bemusement in Holly's treatment of her ex-band's ubiquitous fans. I'm not quite sure who the Curfew is supposed to be, but it's probably an amalgam - Inchmale brings Nine Inch Nails to mind. The band's name could be a reference to a Woody Guthrie song.

Gibson's geography is usually more interesting than in this book. Manhattan seemed stale and tired. In Vancouver, Gibson might take a lesson from James Branch Cabell, who made a virtue out of vice by realizing that an author always sounds provincial when he writes about his own backyard. There's only so much anyone can do with Sunset in LA, but Mr Sippie was a high point of the Los Angeles chapters - does it exist?

The plot is gripping, in an offbeat way. In the opening chapters, it's easy to believe that the mystery container holds biological or nuclear weapons, if not something even more technically edgy - grey goo? Without revealing the climax, none of this is the case. Nor are the motives of Tito's family and their ex-NSC patron easily fathomable from the build-up.

The denouement is another matter. After the bullets have flown, Gibson spends entirely too much time wrapping up happy endings - at least, for every character that we're supposed to like. Contrast this with Idoru, or Mona Lisa Overdrive, in which surviving is enough, and the reader is left to transform ambiguous shreds of hope into whatever ending suits his or her needs.

At heart, the book is well-written but flawed by contemporary polemics. I'm not a fan of the GWB administration, nor of Homemade Security (one of Gibson's better coinings in this book, if his). I tend to agree with most, if not quite all, of the thinly-veiled anti-Republican politics in Spook Country. But I can get these politics from digg, reddit, or any random blog.

I expect more than that from William Gibson. In Spook Country, I never quite found it.

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