William Gibson: Spook Country
The follow-up to Gibson’s Pattern Recognition continues in fine postmodernist style. The plot of the first novel in the trilogy skittered continuously on the edge of a pit of a knowledge, the locus was a lack of hard facts in an overwhelming deluge of data and resolutely failed to give satisfactory or reliable answers. Thankfully, Spook Country gives us what Pattern Recognition refused. In amongst all the corporate branding and the highly entertaining distraction of locative art (digital artworks linked to WiFi hotspots, augmented reality sculptures viewable only through the correct technology), the answer to the mystery of what is in the shipping container does finally surface briefly from the sea of doubt and uncertainty where it remains hidden for most of the novel, allowing us a brief glimpse of the machinations of post 9-11 politicking before it sinks back beneath the waves of state-secrethood.
Despite the fact that the book gives us answers where none were expected, I still find Pattern Recognition to be the better novel, as the reader feels a genuine curiosity as to what the mysterious video clips are, whereas in Spook Country all the characters seem to be inexorably converging on the shipping container without much suspense being built up as to its contents, leading the reveal to be more of an ‘Oh, OK’ moment than an epiphicanical* ‘Ahhhhhhhhh, *thats* what it is’ moment. So, a typically underwhelming sequel to what should be an iconic first novel in a trilogy, but Spook Country still feels slick and cool as your latest expensive electronic gadget. Will probably date badly, so read it now whilst it is current and not a historical curio.
Gibson keeps getting better. I didn’t rate Neuromancer and still don’t, it’s a scrappy and not particularly well written book, that is admittedly well thought out and imagined, but ultimately a great story written by a less-than-stellar writer. The ‘Blue Ant’ books (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, and Zero History) represent Gibson not trying to better the monolithic achievements of his first novel, but instead concentrating on improving his writing and handing us the current historical moment on a plate with a little tech-savviness thrown in, rather than trying to predict the next big thing, a trap he could so easily have let his career fall into, and I for one am grateful for that if it turns out quality, tech, and theory, aware novels like this.
*I totally made this word up because I couldn’t think of a real one that fitted what I wanted to say.