Thursday, November 15, 2007

Spook Country

Anyone who knows SF knows William Gibson. He has written two previous, loosely connected trilogies, one known as the Sprawl, the other as the Bridge.

The former is set in a dark future of drugs, cyberspace, and neural implants. The latter’s setting is an earthquake-ravaged Pacific Rim.

Gibson brought his vision to the present when he released Pattern Recognition in 2003, and Spook Country earlier this year.

The aftermath of 9/11 permeates these novels like background radiation, and two characters appear in both books -- Pamela Mainwaring and the ridiculously named Hubertus Bigend -- which leads one to believe that his next novel will conclude this set of real world adventures.

Bigend is the head of a shadowy organization called Blue Ant. He has a maglev bed, and says things like, "Quebec is an imaginary country" and Intelligence is "advertising turned inside out."

The title Spook Country carries several shades of meaning. First of all, the story is about “spooks” or intelligence agents. Second, non-corporeal entities can be found in each of the three narrative threads. Finally, the word “spooky” is employed in the sense of “scary.”

The book consists of 84 titled chapters, tracks the movements of a mysterious shipping container, and concludes in Vancouver.


A former member of a cult rock group, Hollis has come to LA to do a piece on locative art, virtual reality pieces commemorating events in the location where they occurred. For example, by donning a VR helmet a person can witness Scott Fitzgerald having a heart attack.

The scene is created in much the same way that game designers create shapes, beginning with a wire frame and adding textures. The piece exists on a server somewhere, and is made accessible by Wifi and GPS. The technical end has been worked out by a Canadian geohacker named Bobby Chombo. Spatially tagged hypermedia is the way it’s described by Odile, curator of this new artform.


Tito is a Cuban-Chinese teenager living in New York. He is part of a tight-knit family of "illegal facilitators" who employ impeccable KGB tradecraft. Sometimes they work for the government, sometimes they don’t. Tito speaks Russian, delivers iPods used as storage devices, and is a gifted streetrunner who at times gets a supernatural assist.


Milgrim is a drug addict held captive by a man named Brown, who may or may not be a government agent. Brown is coordinating surveillance of Tito's family, who seem like ghosts to him and his colleagues, one of whom used to work for Blackwater.

Brown introduces Milgrim to a new drug called Rize, which at one point allows Milgrim to catch "glimpses of spectral others, angels perhaps." Milgrim speaks Russian, and knows a dialect called Volapuk used for text messaging on keyboards not equipped with Cyrillic characters. Vancouver, according to Milgrim, "had an oddly low fuckedness index."

The Author

William Gibson came to Canada as a counterculture kid in the Vietnam era. He’s lived in Vancouver for over 30 years, and earned a degree in English from UBC.

His first novel Neuromancer, released in 1984, is one of the most influential in all of SFdom. Today, it is still on’s best seller list for first novels, and its opening line is one of the most recognized: "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

Gibson coined the word cyberspace and jumpstarted a whole new subgenre called cyberpunk, a future noir of drugs, urban sprawl, and computer cowboys who plug their brains directly into the Internet.

To understand Gibson’s vision, you must realize that the World Wide Web did not exist in 1984, and the first PC virus had not yet been invented.

Later, Gibson co-authored with Bruce Sterling a book called The Difference Engine, which featured a mechanical computer created by Charles Babbage. The book spawned another subgenre called steampunk.

But it is not just Gibson’s vision for which he is famed. He is above all things a stylist, turning sentences into a menacing cocktail of technology and brand names.

A Mondrian security man was looking at her, one ear Bluetoothed beneath the shaven cliff of a military haircut.

The door opened like some disturbing hybrid of bank vault and Armani evening purse, perfectly balanced bombproof solidity meeting sheer cosmetic slickness.

[The rifle’s] barrel...was encased in a long tube of lustrous gray alloy that reminded her of expensive European kitchenware. Like a rolling pin by Cuisinart.

About Blogs

Bobby Chombo, talking about reality, locative art, and how cyberspace has "everted," delivers the following McLuhanesque observation:

But when you look at blogs, where you're most likely to find the real info is in the links. It's contextual, and not only who the blog's linked to, but who's linked to the blog.

Official Site: William Gibson