Thursday, April 16, 2020

Review of Spook Country by William Gibson (2007, Putnam)

Former band singer turned journalist, Hollis Henry, is on an assignment in Los Angeles for soon-to-be-launched Node magazine. Her task is to write about the new phenomena of locative virtual art and track down Bobby Chombo, a genius with locative technologies, who has a side-line troubleshooting navigation issues for government bodies, and is a fan of Hollis’ band, Curfew. Tito is a member of a shadowy, Cuban-Chinese mafia-style family with Russian connections, who is passing information along a chain in New York. He’s pursued by Brown, a hardnosed operative for an unnamed government agency, and Milgram, a junkie held on a short-lease by Brown who can interpret Tito’s messages. Pawns in a larger game that has Chombo and a shipping container at its core, Hollis, Tito and Milgram find themselves centre stage while barely aware of what is really going-on as they operate in spook country.

The second book in the Blue Ant trilogy, Spook Country can be read as a standalone. Whereas the Sprawl and Bridge trilogies explored possible near futures, this tale exposes realities already unfolding focusing on locative virtual art and emerging neo-geographies and connecting them into a shadow world of corrupt government post 9/11. At the same time, it still retains a sense of other-worldliness, with the three main characters being drawn into a world that seems to operate alongside or behind-the-scenes; of government secrets and unnamed organizations working and battling covertly yet in plain sight. Gibson spins an engaging, sometimes elliptical tale, told in his characteristic style, charting the three strands that follow the principal characters of Hollis, Tito and Milgram. These strands gradually converge, leading to a nice denouement. An interesting, understated thriller.

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