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Spook Country
William Gibson
Viking hardcover 18.99

review by Tony Lee

Former rock singer Hollis Henry craves a new career in journalism, possibly salaried on forthcoming Wired lifestyle magazine 'Node'. Her first assignment involves the reclusive Bobby Chombo, an agoraphobic nomad and GPS expert on the fringe of the 'locative art' scene. Entrepreneurial promoter and opportunist publisher Hubertus Bigend hovers in the background noise, a lurking manipulator with an apparent fondness for irony.

In recent times (perhaps wishing to emulate the mainstream successes of Iain Banks?), notable genre authors like Michael Marshall Smith, Greg Bear, and Paul McAuley have been turning aside from production of novels that are easily classified SF, and targeting a less ghettoised marketplace. William Gibson is way ahead of them all in terms of bookish technique or flamboyant thriller content. Building on the groundwork firmly established by Pattern Recognition, this novel vaguely resembles a prequel, but in style only, its prototypical contemporaneity infusing everything from the meanderingly episodic plot and skilfully delivered sub-cultural trivia, to a rather mixed bunch of agreeably eccentric characters with newly minted dialogues and freshly impressionistic daydreams.

However, Gibson seems to have forgotten Q's familiar advice to "murder your darlings" and Spook Country is generously outfitted with so many incisive or elegant phrases that such invention soon becomes rather distracting from what little story is being told here. Sadly, it's not as if any of this roundly amusing confection of wordplay is especially poignant or dramatic. It often feels too much like literary affectation for comfort. Here's a "Darth my ride" car door that opens "like some disturbing hybrid of bank vault and Armani evening purse, perfectly balanced bombproof solidity meeting sheer cosmetic slickness." There's a dose of 'Rize' that chills out "like a molecule-thick silver membrane of Chinese antimatter."

Don't get me wrong, though. This is a very fine book. Aficionados of 21st century Gibson will treasure its learned complexities as much as its thought-provoking absurdities. But after a third of its pages have been turned, without much in the way of discernable plot development, SF fans may become weary of erudite observations on a quirky modernity peopled with habitual oddballs and social misfits, and start wondering if the stacked kindling of this author's brilliant collage of combustible ideas is ever actually going to catch light, with the timely appearance of a proper firebrand hero and/ or a genuinely sulphurous villain.

Spook Country



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