William Gibson’s plots always have some adventure, some action, some tension, but before Spook Country he had never ventured all the way into the thriller. Populated by quasi-federal agents, extended families of “illegal facilitators,” cult-status former rockers, junkies who can translate obscure Russian texting languages, and funky computer graphics artists and their hacker producer, this country is characteristically slick and very cool. In addition, I think Gibson produces some of his best prose ever; the drug-induced dreams sequences are both beautiful and horrifying—true phantasmagoria.
Still, the novel is essentially a sort of spy story, excitement included. What isn’t there (and also isn’t part of the thriller genre), is character development. The hints of relationships between people are half-hearted, brush-bys in a chrome, steel and glass elevator, at best. The title’s implication that the U.S. is a country obsessed with spying on the world and one another, along with the associated technology, is well-taken; even this could be more fully developed if Gibson had the inclination.
If you’ve followed this blog before, you’ll know I’m a Gibson fan. In fact, I’ve read all of Gibson’s novels, some more than once. I find that I read more than one book by the same author for several reasons: the pull of the familiar; the hope that the next book will be as good as the last one; and, more importantly, a worldview that compels me, a world created by the author—or more accurately by me, the reader, but evoked by the words written by the author—that I want to understand or know more about. The attraction to this worldview is a kind of fascination. It can be a comfortable world or an uncomfortable world; it can attract or repel. It can remind of the simplicity or the complexity of the world I live in. This worldview evoked by the author is not usually explicitly defined. Instead, it’s in the details, the particularities that the author notices. (Is “notices” the right word? Is it “writes” or “calls our attention to” or all of them? This seems like a discussion of one of the functions of art.)
All of this was true for me as I read Spook Country. It has the usual Gibson details: a hard, smooth grittiness; high technology; a keen sense of the visual; even his obsession with the incredibly wealthy is here, though this time he doesn’t let that play its usual central role. Truly, his writing and the content of it both attract and repel me. It helps me see the connections between, as well as the separateness of, human beings. However, the unfulfilled potential of the novel’s end potential and the feeling that it was made to become a movie left me flat. I hope for better next time.