William Gibson – Spook Country

I am, belatedly, adding a couple of previous reviews to this blog. I discovered that I had a number of reviews, mostly on Gibson and Iain M Banks, that I hadn’t published here.

Image2I didn’t realise how much I was enjoying Spook Country until I had finished it. As ever, I was captivated by the flow of words and ideas, and came to the end all too quickly.

I try, when reviewing a book, not to say too much about the plot, and, particularly in this case, there are mysteries, gradually revealed, which add to the pleasure of the experience.

William Gibson is known, primarily, for his science fiction. He has a substantial back catalogue of six novels and a volume of short stories in the sf genre, and one modern novel – Pattern Recognition.

There is a connection between Pattern Recognition and Spook Country, other than the fact that they have a character in common. Both are set in the present day, and both have at their core some generally recognized tragedy – 9-11 and Iraq, respectively. These world events, though essential to the stories, are nevertheless tangential to them, just as they are to most of our lives.

The starting point Gibson uses in Spook Country is one he often uses. A mysterious authority figure hires a specialist to find out something for him. The specialist eventually succeeds, and the result is a surprising revelation.

It’s a good plot outline for a novel, and Gibson has played extensive variations on it. As with all good literature, you read it for the journey rather than the destination. Gibson’s prose is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it certainly is mine. To tell the truth, there seems less of Gibson’s trade mark “verb-light” writing in Spook Country than in previous books. To a large extent, it reads like a rather complex thriller. His characters are engaging, his insights fresh, nothing is obvious, his locations are convincing.

With Oshosi at his shoulder, Tito rounded the corner of the playground fence and ran toward East 16th. Oshosi wanted him out of the park and its calculable geometries of pursuit. A cab slid in front of him as he darted into the traffic on Union Square East; he went over its hood, meeting the astonished eyes of its driver as he hurtled past the windshield. The man slammed his horn and held it, and other horns woke reflexively, a sudden uneven blaring that mounted to a new crescendo as his three pursuers reached the stream of traffic. Tito looked back and saw one of them maneuvering between bumpers with queer, high steps, as if trying to avoid wetting his feet, while holding something aloft like a token. A badge.

In Pattern Recognition, Gibson used a single protagonist method of narration. The reader experienced the whole story from Cayce Pollard’s point of view. In Spook Country, he returns to the multiple viewpoint method he employed in most of his earlier novels.

To an extent, I found this a harder book to get into than Pattern Recognition, partly because of the multiple viewpoints. I was never quite sure whose “side” I was on until near the end. I miss the sf technology William Gibson used to bring to his books, but I welcome the persona he used for sf being brought to a modern novel.

Milgrim was feeling better. He’d asked Brown for a Rize, in the little park, and Brown, engrossed in whatever he was doing on the laptop, had unzipped a pocket on its bag and handed Milgrim an entire unopened four-pack. Now, behind Brown’s upright screen, Milgrim popped a second Rize from its bubble and washed it down with the tea-water. He’d brought his book in from the car, thinking Brown would probably work on the laptop. Now he opened it.

He found a favorite chapter: “An Elite Of Amoral Supermen”.

“What’s that you keep reading?” asked Brown, unexpectedly, from the other side of the screen.

“’An elite of amoral supermen’,” Milgrim replied, surprised to hear his own voice repeat the chapter-title he’d just read.

“That’s what you all think,” said Brown, his attention elsewhere. “Liberals.”

In pre-publication interviews for Spook Country, Gibson has revealed more of his writing techniques than he has in the past. Most notable to me was his assertion that he starts the plot and characters and lets them roll, rather than plotting the book in detail first. He backs off if he spots himself forcing the action. This is not an uncommon technique among authors. Apparently, he had no idea what was in the plot-pivotal shipping container when he started the book. I guess we just have to be grateful that his subconscious writes a great story.

My initial judgement was that Spook Country is not as engaging as Pattern Recognition was. Fewer cool concepts and less exotic writing. But, like great music, Gibson’s novels never seem to reveal their full richness at once, and my second reading proved more rewarding. But, importantly, it’s a William Gibson novel, and there aren’t enough of these in the world.

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