It would appear that the man who gave us culturally ubiquitous terms "Cyberspace" and "The Matrix" (both from his landscape-shattering breakout novel "Neuromancer") has been blown over by Google, the iPod and locative art.

"Spook Country" is an accidental sequel to William Gibson’s post-911 requiem "Pattern Recognition," according to a video on his website. It reads like the cultural exploration of a man so immersed in the future (remember: when 1984 came out, the idea that we’d have avatars running around inside computers was science fiction. Now, we have Second Life) that he forgot to notice, until one probably sunny morning, that we are living in a science fiction world.

At its core, the novel states the following: the future didn’t turn out to be one of flying cars and magic pill hamburgers, but of works of art that you can only see if you’re wearing virtual reality goggles, standing on a particular street corner. The idea is almost the response to the call-out of "Neuromancer": Information is all around us, rather than a thing into which we insert ourselves.

Like all of Gibson’s work, it’s a science-fiction escapist piece for readers who meditate on what their world is up to, what it’s becoming.

"Spook Country" introduces us to the weird world of information immersion through the eyes of Hollis Henry, the former frontwoman of progressive-rock band The Curfew, trying to make a break into journalism with a mysterious assignment from emerging magazine Node. Henry’s assignment is to interview locative art specialist Bobby Chombo, who took his last name from a computer program which, according to the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center, "provides a set of tools for implementing finite difference methods for the solution of partial differential equations on block-structured adaptively refined rectangular grids." Don’t expect that to make sense—the point is, Bobby is a computer geek with a fascination for the intersection of virtual space and real space.

He specializes in geospatial technologies. He got into locative art after a career working navigational systems for the US military, and uses his expertise to place works of art on a VR grid mapped over real cities and towns. Think Google Streetview, only, with giant squids or F. Scott Fitzgerald Tableaus in the middle of record stores. The point is, Chombo is Gibson’s metaphor for the ubiquity of information, and Hollis is the late-20th or early-21st century n00b who has to figure out what it all means.

Gibson’s story is not only about locative art and how weird our world is becoming: he also has the good graces to give us a spy story, which deals with the ubiquity of information in a different way. Agent Brown and his captive junkie Russian translator, Milgrim, are on the tail of a Cuban-Chinese Spetsnaz-trained ninja believed (rightly) by the US government to be smuggling information to an unknown entity for an unknown purpose. Brown relies on satellite information to track him, another nod to the ubiquity of information, and keeps Milgrim in the dark about his actual affiliation and intent. Milgrim, an Ativan addict, constantly battles Stockholm’s syndrome. He is a prisoner of that world of information.

In "Spook Country," Gibson takes his time weaving these three storylines together, letting the story of Tito the ninja, Brown and Milgrim, and Hollis build to a conclusion which amounts to a great big middle finger to the war in Iraq. Gibson has crafted a book full of characters looking, literally, for their place in the world, and has shown readers that the world didn’t turn out to be the futurist paradise we might have wanted, validating our inevitable escape into the digital.

About The Author

Steven H. Bagley is a Blast correspondent

2 Responses

  1. Chris Bradley

    A point blank review of Spook Country by William Gibson
    Posted in Uncategorized by chrisbradley on the October 4th, 2007

    Let’s get started on the best note possible. William Gibson stated yesterday in the California Literary Review that Spook Country was a “contractual obligation” and that he started with a “blank page” and found himself in “varying degrees of distress” during the task of publishing it.

    For every reason stated above, and the fact that it is a dry uninspired read at best, it is not worth spending one red cent on. His work has become no better than Steven King’s work since the release of Pattern Recognition in 2003, and he is willing to admit, that he is no longer interested in writing about the future.

    If I were tied to a “contractual obligation” I don’t think I would feel that inspired to write anything particularly new or different either. Especially if I were aware the Publishers were screwing me out of a good portion of the profits.

    So, with these things in mind, lets talk about the story and the characters. Brown is a psychopathic failed government agent who is holding Milgrim hostage. Milgrim is addicted to psychotropic speed analogs. They are in New York at the start of the work. Hollis Henry, a pop singer from a band called the Curfew (not far from Curve or the Cure in name) has had a failed career and is making a last ditch effort as a Journalist for an Internet rag called the node. Except that she never writes a single significant word in the entire novel. The container she ends up searching for is ultimately filled with U.S. Government Money (literally 100.00 bills) and it is a ruse that makes her a possible target for a Chinese / Cuban group intent on tagging the money with Cesium. She starts in Los Angeles and Everyone ends up in Vancouver at the conclusion. The Cubans main characters are a kid named Tito and a guy with the Gun to tag the money inside the Shipping Container.

    There is a bit about stealing a Glock from a drug dealer, and that’s about as much action as takes place in the book. The sequence in New York where Brown is madly trying to procure an Ipod containing data from Tito is a miserable, uninventive look at Union Square, and involves automobiles very rarely.

    The big excitement in Milgrim’s life is getting a haircut and a Makeover paid for in Washington D.C. by Brown’s attache’s before boarding a Jetstream to Vancouver where he appears to lose his mind completely. Crashing a car in an attempt to kill Tito. At which point Milgrim escapes, snatches Hollis Henry’s purse which contains 5000.00 given to her by proxy from a dead band mate, heroin overdose, who could have figured? Which lands him in a bed and breakfast having a nice egg breakfast on his way out to roam the streets.

    That about sums it up. There’s nothing more to it. It was the most uninteresting, formula driven work that Gibson has ever written. And the Locative art and GPS opening sequences with Bobby Chombo are so lost in the gratuitous waste of language that they are hardly worth reflecting on. It leaves a big “So what?” in my mind.

    I am glad Gibson is admitting that his publishing company is doing him no good, and I suggest that he continue to do so, and “dropkick the chihuawa’s into the soup.” Because they are just like PRADA bags, trendy, hollow, purchased by vindictive people, and generally bred for all the wrong reasons.

    I am glad I bought the book, but maybe Penguin Putnam should rethink their marketing strategy before alienating their customers with tripe that isn’t worth the toilet paper it was manufactured on. In today’s world, now that he is the Godfather of Cyberpunk, Gibson could have as easily signed his name on a bag of old tomatoes, and they would sell for $17.00.

    And he knows it. And he will do it again.
    10 Reasons Not To Buy Into Gibson Mythos
    Posted in Uncategorized by chrisbradley on the October 3rd, 2007

    1) While Gibson May Have Coined The Word Cyberspace, He Did Not Construct It. DARPA Did.

    2) Cyberspace was good for all of 3 Books. Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive. Every subsequent work dealt with other subjects – which were based solely on the trendiness of the times. Virtual Light (Virtual Reality), Idoru (artificial intelligence turned pop-star), and All Tomorrow’s Parties (the homeless problem). Pattern Recognition (Modern Marketing). Spook Country (Paranoia of the Government).

    3.) I wrote a review of Pattern Recognition that was widely available to people seeking Gibson’s work. A few thousand people probably bought the work because of it. I didn’t receive a single thank you note from the Publisher of the work. Instead – I have repeatedly been asked to either stop publishing my own work, or leave their forum altogether.

    4.) When I made my best efforts over the course of years from 2003 – 2007 to participate in the Gibson Forum, yes that is 4 years, I was ultimately harassed, shunned, insulted, and instigated into arguing with its members. They are a HOSTILE, Unpleasant, Self Righteous Bunch, With No Valid Intent to Read REAL meaningful posts and respond in a Non Hostile way.

    5. The proprietors had me REMOVED from the forum for responding in kind. After having spent Several Hundred Dollars on Gibson Merchandise over the years and invested COUNTLESS hours studying Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence as a result of his works, you would think I would have something of a place there discussing the subjects.

    6. Their forum patrons, PERSIST in posting hostile materials against my person, after I have left the forum. I know this because the forum has no measure in place from me ANONYMOUSLY viewing its content.

    7. William Gibson, is not at the heart of the real matter at hand. The real matter at hand is that he probably signed a contract with Putnam that prohibits him from doing anything but writing Bestsellers. Therefore his work is Toned Down and not worth reading at all. It is Formula Work designed to shift units. He has little or no creative control over the end result as he did with Neuromancer.

    8. A Publishing Company that has No Adequate Oversight over its own resources and the people that uses them has no business being a Publishing Company at all in today’s world. If they cannot prohibit users from behaving badly to one another on their website, because they do not interact with it to a significant degree, then they have no business running the website.

    9. The Pattern Recognition Movie will probably sell a lot of tickets. Good for the Executive Producer. Bad for Gibson. Good for the publishers of the book – who hold sway over the Copyrights to it through contracts, bad for Gibson. Good for DVD sales and Wal-Mart, bad for Gibson. Good for Leather Jackets, bad for Gibson. Because he knows its not a real story. Its a story that took advantage of the 9-11 event, just like World Trade Center, which was a cheaply made story with a terribly mundane plot.

    10. If you have any ambitions of being a writer, stay away from allowing a Publishing Company like Penguin Publishing to contract you. They only pay a few cents per copy sold, while with self publishing, not only are you your own boss, but the book is instantly available internationally, and you get paid up to 2 or 3 dollars a copy. Working the slave life isn’t anything anyone should aspire to.
    An open letter to Penguin Putnam Group
    Posted in Uncategorized by chrisbradley on the October 3rd, 2007


    #1. I am not going to ask you to reconsider lifting your ip ban because it doesn’t matter anyway. I have more than 1 ip.

    #2. If I had not been threatened by your members first, I would not have chosen to respond as I did.

    #3. No one enjoys being a) called mentally unstable b) being outright cursed at c) called a self promoting “troll”

    #4. To the people that were supposedly “injured” by my remarks, let me make this comment, they deserved it.

    #5. If Gibson wants to Host a Forum about the US Intelligence Services aka Spook Country maybe it should be considered that people DO actively participate by making regular reports to them on regular issues.

    #6. I attempted to generate 2 threads, that were of practical use. 1 called 21 Gun Salute, which was a fiction thread designed for that purpose only. The content was no more volitile than any other collection or anthology of short stories published in the last Decade. You chose to suppress it. 2nd – A seasonal / autumn thread – which had NO volitile content whatsoever, and was actually beginning to make progress. You chose to suppress it also.

    #7. It doesn’t matter that you have done these things, the most important of my posts have been copied to my blog. And WILL BE PUBLISHED in a future book. You can bank on that.

    #8. People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. A member on the William Gibson board literally took my face and attached it to a sign that said “Narcissitic Personality Disorder.” If he thinks its funny, its not. If anyone has it, it is the entire makeup of your board who think they are a) self important b) infallible c) allowed to push drugs through your forum d) allowed to manipulate foreigners in illegal ways. They fit their own description. Using my personal photograph without my permission and without my posting it EVER on the forum, is a) illegal b) an obscene affront to decency c) lawsuit worthy.

    #9.William Gibson’s future products will not be on my shopping list if I am not re-admitted to the board. I will take no future action to purchase any of his endorsed products, enjoy his literature, or give him any sort of positive review with my peers, limited as they are. I may even write a negative review of Spook Country and make it prominently viewable. Because I know it isn’t his best work, and I know it was a tactic to sell books for your company rather than produce anything genuine or creative.

    #10. A word to the wise: Losing me means losing everyone like me – including newcomers to the community who see it as an open forum, rather than a CENSORED, ILL PLANNED, POORLY HOSTED, attempt at selling products and manipulating a market that should have dried up with All Tomorrow’s Parties.

    #11. I will not spend Movie theater or DVD money on Pattern Recognition either, and I will start telling my friends it is a waste of time. And that it has nothing to do with cyberspace, which is the God’s Honest Truth. From the OUTSET, PR has to do with Marketing, and I’m sad to say that in writing my review which appreared in VoidSpace and probably sold at least 10,000 copies of PR – I fell for it Hook Line and Sinker. Never again.

    #12. You don’t want to deal with people talking about politics, tell your author not to write about them. I think Gibson is too far away from America now to make any sincere comment on what goes on here. And I don’t see him catalyzing a single sincere thought on the subject from his home in Canada which has become an Anethma to any American crossing into its borders. Canadians come to our country and criticize us in our own stores while we stand there and listen to how they are superior to us. Maybe we should close the borders and cut our trade to them, and see how the Canadian Dollar Fares, when we stop spending money to support them. Canadians seem to think that America is going to protect them eternally and they have it carte blanche to step on our ideas. I’m here, and I’ll say it, we probably won’t. And if something horrible happens in either of your two media centers now, I’ll be laughing from my Border Town which is well secured and doesn’t have any real potential targets.

    #13 To think I actually thought I might use Toronto or Montreal for a site for a future film is now virtually entirely off. I’ll have to rethink the entire strategy. Hollywood has its magic, and so does New York. Two places I can see laughing very hard when Pattern Recognition doesn’t sell enough tickets to pay back the investors.

    #14 You can forget I said any of this – laugh me off – or not even read it for all I care. But keep this in mind, that aborted thought you skipped when a) either you didn’t reply or b) you replied negatively will cost you. This draft will be copied to my blog which gets a considerable number of Keywords into Google, as will any of your responses, legal threats, or scoldings. I implore you, give it a chance. Because your company really doesn’t need a gaping wound to be its #6 NY Times best seller.

    #15 In case you wondered – Yes I still enjoy gibson, but as I said – I won’t buy another thing, and I will turn on his work like a bad penny in an instant, if you don’t do something about controlling your internal problems with your community. And from an ANONYMOUS perch, I will be watching.

  2. Chris Bradley

    American Spook Hop
    Posted in Uncategorized by chrisbradley on the October 6th, 2007 Edit This

    Its been about 2 days, and I’ve been watching the results roll in on my review of Spook Country. It really is amazing what the world will buy when you make the right suggestion. Hordes of idiots are already hurling tomatoes into their blogs in an attempt to catch a piece of the Gibson pie in the sky. Maybe they think they are being classy or somehow refuting my comment. I am not retracting it. Spook Country is a steaming pile, and I know why and how it was written.

    My best recommendation for Gibson, who at this point is probably distressed and annoyed with me, is change your pen name, terminate your contract with Putnam, retire, and invest in a vineyard or a pizza franchise. Don’t ever write the third installment for Putnam, because you will not be satisfied with it either. Instead, create something new.

    And for god’s sake, stop touring. The fans don’t deserve you. They are a bunch of ill favored hippocrites, with their ipods close at hand, and their daddy’s volvos and vw’s. Do you really want to go down as selling out to their sensibilities? When did you stop being a philosopher and start being a prophet of nil? The truth is, and always has been that there is and will be a form to the future, with or without humankind.

    Let the people burn, they have mandated their own consumptiveness, and will buy whatever they are manipulated into buying. I hear a good bottle of wine goes for upwards of $300.00 in New York.


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