Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Gibson rocks in Spook Country

Books now read in ’07: 83
Title: Spook Country
Author: William Gibson
Genre: Fiction
Date Completed: 8-20
Pages: 371

Late in William Gibson’s new and entirely amazing new novel a character explains that he found himself engaged in a particular mission because someone was looking for a person with a “really odd skill set.” As it happens, just about everyone in Spook Country has a really odd skill set.

  • There’s Hollis Henry, a journalist who was the former lead singer in a now defunct alt-rock band.

  • There’s a mysterious old man with incredible connections, inside and outside the government.

  • An agile, young Cuban-Chinese man with acrobatic skills who channels a stable of small “g” gods and who can call on the resources of his family, which is both a family in the sense that they are all related and a family in the sense that are a way-below-the-radar crime family.

  • There’s a Russian-speaking, sedative-loving fellow who has been gang-pressed into aiding a cranky man, who is clearly the novel’s resident bad guy, trail the agile kid and translate messages passing between him and his family.

  • And, certainly neither last nor least, is the brilliant but geeky Bobby Chombo who does amazing things with locative art and GPS tracking.

Gibson takes all these disparate characters, combines a seemingly random and disparate assortment of elements – locative art, GPS tracking, pirates, container shipping and just a whiff of terrorists – into an engrossing and thoroughly entertaining novel. A thrill ride if you are given to blurbs.

How Gibson makes this all work is a testament to his skill as a novelist. Gibson made his reputation writing about a not-to-distant future. He’s abandoned the future recently for the present. One suspects it’s because the present is infinitely more interesting. Or, perhaps, Gibson simply tired of the burden of the predictive – he’s given to telling fans who gush about his futurescapes – “Did you notice there were no cell phones in the future?”

Spook Country is divided into three stories: the primary one features Hollis, who has been employed by the mysterious and wonderfully named Hubertus Bigend to write an article on locative art for a magazine that doesn’t yet exist. Bigend is really interested in what Hollis can learn about Bobby Chombo and his fixation on a particular container at sea. There’s a story line with the old man and the agile young man and his family, which eventually intersects with the final story line, that of our Russian-speaking drug user and his handler. Those story lines ultimately merge with that of Hollis and Bigend and Bobby Chombo.

Trust me, it works. And it works well. Late in the novel (where have we heard that phrase?) – just before the part about really odd skill sets – there’s a discussion about laundering massive, as in billions, amounts of cash. At about that point it becomes clear where the novel is headed. But what isn’t clear, until the end, is whether this ambitious and outrageous scheme will come to pass.

No spoilers here. You have to read Spook Country for the answer. I envy you. It’s huge fun.

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