Some thoughts on Spook Country

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I finished William Gibson’s Spook Country over the weekend, and I’m alternating between deep appreciation for some of his imagery and puzzlement over some of his sentence construction. My initial reaction was that the plot was slight, really nothing more than what you’d expect from an on-game comic book writer over a four-issue arc (Ellis, Rucka, Brubaker, for example–though, Ellis could have probably distilled it down to a single Global Frequency issue). As karmic payback/prank scenarios go, it’s pretty good, but there was just, eh, not much to it really. The real trick of the book though (and a lot of the reason I’m still ruminating about it several days later) is how Gibson makes everything ephemeral.

Everything vanishes, in the end. Everyone slips away into identities that aren’t really theirs. Events, which appear to have happened, may never be publicaly acknowledged (or spoken of again). The resolution of some character arcs happens off-screen (and, come on? but who doesn’t want to see that truck driver get his comeuppance at the border?), or not at all. The resolution of the envelope in the purse is a little too pat for comfort, but it adds a layer of unreality to the story. Organizations which are shadowy and vague in the beginning don’t gain any more clarity over the course of the book. Characters are referred to by descriptors, and that is all we ever get about them.

The book takes place in February of 2006, and it seems one of the selling points has been how Gibson has written a “historical” SF book (or “near-future,” if you like that better), but I think that’s also one of his ghostly tricks. By setting it last year, you wonder if you missed the revolution, or if you’ve missed the technological bubble. It sets you askew, by subtly asking if you’re not as savvy about the true nature of the world as you think. Is it all possible? Yes. Could it have happened, just like he says? Possibly. Are we safer, or less so? I don’t think it matters. I think Gibson has just told us a ghost story, and like all bonfire fairy tales, it’s up to us to decide if it is real or not. No, “real” is the wrong word. It is up to us to decide if we “believe” it.

Yes, that’s it. There is an awareness of how much a symbiotic relationship exists between audience and story-teller. In ten years, with this book be part of the canon of cultural history because it foresaw events (and ideas) or because it invented them? Or does the conscious placement of it in our past (instead of saying “NOW” on the first page) make it a fairy tale from the get-go?