20070916

Spook Country

William Gibson - Spook Country

Betyg: 4

Core dump of brain in progress - please stand back

Way back before music went digital, John Prine wrote this:
We are living in the future, tell you how I know:
I read it in the paper - Fifteen years ago


When William Gibson starts using the word "cyberspace" as a plot point, you sit up and take notice. And when he starts talking about virtual reality, dont' start shaking your head. Yeah, that stuff with the plastic helmets and the boxy graphics has seemed like a very old and useless party trick since back in the 90s. But what Gibson is aiming for here is not so much a virtual reality novel as a post-VR novel - in the same sense that "post-modern" doesn't mean "non-modern" or "post-9/11" doesn't mean "we've forgotten 9/11". It's about what happens when something has become so embedded in reality that it IS reality; it's, funnily enough, a novel about borders. Or perhaps, the absence of them.
"See-bare-espace," Odile pronounced, gnomically, "it is everting."
"'Everything'? What is?"
"See-bare-espace," Odile confimed, "everts." She made a gesture with her hands that reminded Hollis, in some dimly unsettling way, of the crocheted model uterus her Family Life Education teacher had used as an instructional aid.
"Turns itself inside out," offered Alberto, by way of clarification. "'Cyberspace'."
Spook Country takes place in a world where cyberspace has indeed everted, become just another aspect of the world; just as the world has shrunk to the place where geographical borders, however well-guarded, can be easily crossed if you know how (after all, what is an illegal immigrant but a real-life hacker penetrating a system with lots of black ICE?). Any reality which involves GPS locators, WiFi networks everywhere, and entire lives being carried in little memory sticks is to some extent virtual. Reality is tagged like a wiki; street artists in Gibson's now don't use spray cans, they use laptops and 3D renderings that only make sense to those in the know to make their mark on the world. The characters, as well-drawn and as human as they are, to some extent come off as avatars – each with their own title, picture and online persona in a world that's always online.
The phrase "trusted networks" briefly made her feel like crying. She wasn't feeling as though she had any.
Now, this obviously addresses some timely issues - and surprisingly enough, by the last 100 pages as the plot becomes clearer, I'm reminded very strongly of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day. I'm not in any way suggesting that Gibson ripped Pynchon off, just that they do seem to have tapped into some of the same concerns. The informal secret-by-default societies and underground movements, the fractured narrative, the promise of a brave new world around the corner, the "resistance"... it's all vintage Pynchon themes, but Gibson being Gibson, he takes it to different (and considerably less opinionated) places. I'm also reminded of something Umberto Eco wrote in Turning Back the Clock, which I've unfortunately lent to a friend, but which goes something along the lines of how the "Big Brother is watching you" theme is hopelessly antiquated; it can be much scarier to live in a world with 6 billion big brothers all watching each other with no way of knowing who is working for whom.
"The pop star, as we knew her" – and here he bowed slightly, in her direction – "was actually an artefact of preubiquitous media."
"Of -?"
"Of a state in which 'mass' media existed, if you will, within the world."
"As opposed to?"
"Comprising it."
Spook Country is a very multifaceted novel, touching upon technology, religion, politics, art, war, capitalism... One of those facets is a thriller, and much like with Pattern Recognition, I find myself intrigued more by the setup than with the actual plot resolution. Not so much because some of it's been done before [hide](been watching Goldfinger, William?)[/hide] but because it feels like there's something disjointed here; as if he hasn't quite thought the plot through all the way, and drops some of the interesting observations on the world in favour of a more plot-driven approach and a somewhat unsatisfactory ending about 2/3 in. It's still very intriguing – hell, I read the last 130 pages or so in one sitting – but some part of me still feels like it's a great exhibition followed by a slightly flawed dismount. His repeating some of the plot devices from Pattern Recognition probably adds to that. That's probably the reason I find myself thinking it could have been better, and I'm only going to give it a strong 4/5. But on a whole, it's a fascinating and more than slightly spooky novel. It feels like Gibson has come full circle, catching up to his younger self as the world has caught up to what, back then, sounded like science fiction, only now with much more meat on his bones. We are living in the future,
We're all driving rocket ships and talkin' with our minds
Wearin' turquoise jewelry and standing in soup lines.

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