William Gibson’s Spook Country

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Finished Spook Country, the new William Gibson. I doubt there will ever be a Gibson novel I won’t read, and read with pleasure, but there is, after nine novels, a certain undeniable sameness to his work. Maybe he’s just a victim of his own success — there’s so much faux-Gibson out there that even real-Gibson starts to sound like faux-Gibson after a while. But he does have an unflagging fondness for sexy, emotionally vague heroines; shadowy billionaires; conceptual artists; mongrel subcultures; obscure firearms; drug addicts; &c. I’m just saying. They crop up a lot.

But enough cavilling: to business. Hollis Henry is a journalist on assignment for a shadowy magazine called Node that may or may not exist, covering a new art world trend: “locative” art, holographic images projected over a specific location, identified by its GPS coordinates. Hollis is also the ex-lead-singer of an 80’s cult band — it’s a running gag that everybody in the book recognizes her and just wants to talk about her old band. (When Hollis turns up at a critical moment, somebody remarks drolly, “At least it’s not Morrissey.”) Our Maguffin is a mysterious shipping container, contents unknown, which is being shipped from place to place. Lots of people want to find it for some reason.

The plot threads connecting the various characters in Spook Country are gossamer-thin — in fact the whole plot can more or less be hygienically disposed of. But Gibson novels aren’t so much about the plot, they’re really just an excuse to sort through the rattle-bag of Gibson’s random thoughts, like this one: “He’d once dated a woman who liked to say that the windows of Army surplus stores constituted hymns to male powerlessness.” Blimey. And Gibson does find the most interesting stuff, like Volapuk, a rough-and-ready slang Russians use for typing in Cyrillic on a Roman-character keyboard (this is actually a real thing).

Later Gibson reminds me a bit of the AI artist in Count Zero, endlessly sifting through the detritus of civilization and piecing together lovely little Cornell boxes out of it. They’re lovely, but at the end of the day, they are just little Cornell boxes. Now, I ain’t saying he’s gone soft on us, but isn’t he nostalgic at all for the angry, vicious far future of the Sprawl? At all? All those nasty prosthetics and hideous body modifications and whatnot? Come on, just one little cortex bomb. A tissue graft. Throw me a distorted, polymer-enhanced, vat-grown bone here.