We're all doing VR, every time we look at the screen. We have been for decades now.... But you can't just do the locative with your nervous system. One day, you will. We'll have internalized the interface. It'll have evolved to the point where we forget about it. Then you'll just walk down the street..." He spread his arms, and grinned at her.
"In Bobbyland," she said.
"You got it."
William Gibson made his name with the cyberpunk trilogy, written in the 1980s and set in the twenty-first century. Since the actual twenty-first century increasingly resembles something from a Gibson cyberpunk novel, he has been setting his recent work in the present. This novel follows Pattern Recognition. Although the two works share some characters, references, and plot elements, this is not in the usual sense a sequel.
In Spook Country, various people connected to the cutting edge of contemporary technology track a mysterious package for conflicting reasons. Former indie darling Hollis Henry writes for Node, a shadowy magazine that does not quite exist yet, and her story on locative art leads her to the trail of other secret, spooky matters. Meanwhile Brown, a professional spook who may or may not retain his connections to the American government follows a variation of the same trail, aided by a captive addict. Finally, a cabal of Chinese-Cuban spies also engage in secretive operations around the same MacGuffin.
In a review of Pattern Recognition, I wrote that Gibson makes our world feel like SF. It may be more correct to say that his vision of SF was prescient enough to predict certain aspects of our world with a degree of accuracy.
Gibson uses locative art (a significant plot element of Vernor Vinge's recent Rainbows End) as a metaphor for secrets, and the things that lurk beneath our workaday world. He continues to demonstrate an understanding of the technologies that will change our world, and describes them vividly.
Gibson has always been a strong writer, and stylistically, I believe he has only improved with time. Many chapters read like self-contained works of allusion-heavy postcard fiction and, indeed, portions were published online at Gibson's blog. Individually, the chapters represent the craftings of a brilliant, prescient writer. Collectively, the pieces did not consistently engage me. Gibson has written a thriller with comparatively little suspense and a novel of ideas that elicits relatively few big questions.
In all fairness, a third book will follow in this series, and it likely will change my perceptions of this one. As with everything Gibson writes, I anticipate its publication.
Spook Country contains some excellent writing, but as a novel, I suspect it suffers from being the middle book of a trilogy, and can hope that the whole will be greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Title: Spook Country
Author: William Gibson
First published: 2007.