10 December 2007

Spook Country

    Getting there is half the fun.
      popular idiom

I really like author William Gibson, and I was excited when Amazon told me about his latest novel. (Amazon knows how much I like Gibson.) Titled Spook Country, it follows in the footsteps of his previous novel, Pattern Recognition. Unlike Gibson's earlier work, which is set in the future, these novels are set in the present. Spook Country is not really a sequel, although some characters do recur. Rather it is more like a second story occurring in the same universe. I finished it just last week, and I was not disappointed.

My wife Sharon observed that Gibson is not out to write page-turners. Reading one of his novels is less like watching a movie and more like watching someone paint a picture. His plots are often devoid of the cliffhangers and surprise twists you often find. He takes his time with the narrative. Instead of propelling you forward, he reveals the story carefully. There is no problem stopping along the way to admire the view or smell the flowers. It is as much, if not more, about the journey than about the destination.

In recalling another Gibson novel, All Tomorrow's Parties, Sharon noted she might not remember exactly how the action unfolded, but she will never forget the cardboard box in a Tokyo train station that one of the characters lived in. Gibson's settings have always been memorable, and Spook Country continues that trend. Recalling it now, I cannot think of a location that was in any way mundane. He creates exotic places, like an impossibly priced flat in Vancouver with a magnetic levitation bed. Yet even locations as unexceptional as a Best Western motel room become noteworthy through the eyes of his characters.

And characters come to life in equal measure. The story is told from three points of view. First is Hollis Henry, an indie-rock star turned journalist (a little reminiscent of Cayce Pollard, the main character in Pattern Recognition, but only a little). Next is Tito, the young member of an underground family of spies-for-hire, and one of the more inventive characters I've encountered. Finally there is Milgrim, a drug addict held captive by a quasi-government operative; his observations and musings throughout the book made him my favorite. Like the book itself, each character is a portrait that reveals itself carefully as the story progresses. I don't want to say much more about them, lest I spoil the experience.

Gibson's stories always delve into new and intriguing concepts. A common theme is the impact of technology on our culture. This book explores the confluence of technology and art in the form of locative art. It also contains astute commentary on the Bush administration's policies and execution of the Iraq war. However, these insights are never presented overtly; they lurk below the surface and quietly filter up through the story. Thus it never feels like Gibson is preaching. I found this to be one of the most impressive aspects of this novel.

Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed this book. It was a pleasure from start to finish, and I was disappointed when I was done. If you get a chance, I recommend it highly.

1 comment:

Rob S. said...

I'm about a third of the way through --- it's the terrific!