Spook Country

Say,” he said to Brown who was looking at his phone as if he wished he knew a way to torture it, “this NSA data-mining thing…”

When I attended MaxEnt 2009 in Oxford, I bought William Gibson‘s Spook Country at thHelsinki central railway statione university bookstore as it was on sale for $5… I have read it during the past week, finishing it this morning in the 5:30 bus to Helsinki airport, and I am quite disappointed. (Incidentally, I visited yesterday the Akateeminen Kirjakauppa bookstore in Helsinki and found there an incredibly well-provided fantasy section—in English—that beats by far the major chains in England!) I love Gibson‘s early cyber-punk books and I can still remember the excitement of reading Neuromancer for the first time, while I was completing my thesis.

“We have been buying into data mining at Blue Ant.”

The style was very innovative, sharp and tense, with this then-novel use of existing brands to shorten the descriptions, and the story was gripping, with insights of what would become the cyberspace. Even the later Virtual Light had fascinating findings, like its delivery cyclist and its recycling of the Golden Gate Bridge into a squatter community.

“What does Chombo…do?” “It implements finite difference methods for the solution of partial differential equations, on block structured, adaptively refined rectangular grids.”

In my opinion, Spook Country is over-exploiting the same stylistic lines as those earlier books with very short chapters, an abundance of brands (Apple at the forefront!), a central role of technology and virtual reality, and three characterial threads interweaved. However, the story does not click in. There are too many improbable coincidences and the characters are definitely caricatural, while reminding me of the previous books: the female artist drawn into investigation for lack of money, the geek computer genius, the woodoo inspired ninja-like thug, the tough CIA spook, the media executive with unlimited wealth… Without going into spoilers, the plot is fairly thin, with those three different groups chasing after the same container, and obviously ending up together. The technological inventivity of the previous novels has disappeared as well—the above quote about Chombo is taken verbatim from the Berkeley Lab website!—, which may explain why William Gibson does not intend to continue writing sci’-fi’ novels.

5 Responses to “Spook Country”

  1. […] and I consider Stephenson’s approach to the genre deeper and more scientific than Gibson‘s. So when in Lancaster I picked the Diamond Age, I was quite excited to have discovered an […]

  2. […] of action, even though.  In my opinion, the ancestry of the book once again includes cyberpunks William Gibbson [more Count Zero than Neuromancer, with the predominant role of Voodoo, but still a major role of […]

  3. […] more than in The Baroque Cycle—shows how impressive an author he is. If a comparison with William Gibson was making any sense, I would say Stephenson has gone beyond. While Gibson ponders on the […]

  4. […] and desires Last week, I finished reading Devices and Desires from K.J. Parker, a book bought in this fantastic Akateeminen Kirjakauppa bookstore in Helsinki (with a different cover using a Da […]

  5. […] relates to my post of Saturday on William Gibson, since William Gibson and Bruce Sterling‘ wrote a steampunk […]

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