Sunday, October 5, 2008

William Gibson - Spook Country

William Gibson, Spook Country, Berkeley International Edition, 2008 (first published 2007).

This story follows several interesting characters who become involved in tracking a shipping container. Why is the container being tracked, by whom, and what do they want with it? All is revealed in a surprising and satisfying ending.

Many of Gibson's usual themes are explored here, notably technology, drug addiction and the nature of celebrity. The present day background is believably painted, and makes the story and characters easy to identify with.

Hollis Henry is a former rock star who has become a journalist and is hired by a forthcoming magazine to investigate locative art, a form of art viewed with a GPS-linked VR helmet in particular locations, so the art is superimposed upon the visible reality. The owner of the magazine, Hubertus Bigend (a character familiar from Pattern Recognition), has received information about the container, since the computer genius behind the GPS links for the locative art has also been hired to track the container. He gets Hollis to exploit her celebrity status to investigate.

Tito is a young Cuban-Chinese "illegal facilitator" from a minor, but well-trained, crime/espionage family in NY. He starts wondering about his recent task, delivering iPods full of data to an old man, who turns out to be a former intelligence officer. He will soon have a more important role to play.

Milgrim is a former Russian translator and interpreter who has become a drug addict. He is kidnapped by Brown, who may be from the police or another agency, to help interpret the Russian-transcript text messages used by Tito and his family. Brown is after the container, but other parties always seem to be one step ahead of him.

These characters move through various cultural settings - the locative art world of LA, the crime and drug world of NY, the territory of secret agents (the "spook country" of the title), and the technological world of GPS tracking, phone scrambling and viewing art through VR. This creates a rich and vivid arena for the tense game to play out upon.

The book is well-written and subtle, as Gibson's work always is. Reading it for the first time was a thrilling experience, as all the threads connect, and reading it again, with the knowledge of the ending made it a lesson in plot construction. The characters are mostly sympathetic, and their inner worlds enriching.

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