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Spook Country Hardcover – August 7, 2007
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Across the Border to Spook Country
For the last few decades, William Gibson, who grew up in Virginia and elsewhere in the United States, has lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, just across the border from Amazon.com's Seattle headquarters, which made for a short drive for a lunchtime interview before the release of Spook Country. We met just a few miles from where the storylines of the new novel, in a rare scene set in Gibson's own city, converge. You can read the full transcript of the interview, in which we discussed, among other things, writing in the age of Google, visiting the Second Life virtual world, the possibilities of science fiction in an age of rapid change, and his original proposal for Spook Country, which we have available for viewing on our site. Here are a few excerpts from the interview:
Amazon.com: Could you start by telling us a little bit about the scenario of the new book?
William Gibson: It's a book in which shadowy and mysterious characters are using New York's smallest crime family, a sort of boutique operation of smugglers and so-called illegal facilitators, to get something into North America. And you have to hang around to the end of the book to find out what they're doing. So I guess it's a caper novel in that regard.
Amazon.com: The line on your last book, Pattern Recognition was that the present had caught up with William Gibson's future. So many of the things you imagined have come true that in a way it seems like we're all living in science fiction now. Is that the way you felt when you came to write that book, that the real world had caught up with your ideas?
Gibson: Well, I thought that writing about the world today as I perceive it would probably be more challenging, in the real sense of science fiction, than continuing just to make things up. And I found that to absolutely be the case. If I'm going to write fiction set in an imaginary future now, I'm going to need a yardstick that gives me some accurate sense of how weird things are now. 'Cause I'm going to have to go beyond that. And I think over the course of these last two books--I don't think I'm done yet--I've been getting a yardstick together. But I don't know if I'll be able to do it again. I don't know if I'll be able to make up an imaginary future in the same way. In the '80s and '90s--as strange as it may seem to say this--we had such luxury of stability. Things weren't changing quite so quickly in the '80s and '90s. And when things are changing too quickly, as one of the characters in Pattern Recognition says, you don't have any place to stand from which to imagine a very elaborate future.
Amazon.com: Now that you're writing about the present, do you consider yourself a science fiction writer these days? Because the marketplace still does.
Gibson: I never really believed in the separation. But science fiction is definitely where I'm from. Science fiction is my native literary culture. It's what I started reading, and I think the thing that actually makes me a bit different than some of the science fiction writers I've met who are my own age is that I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs and William Burroughs in the same week. And I started reading Beat poets a year later, and got that in the mix. That really changed the direction. But it seems like such an old-fashioned way of looking at things. And it's better not to be pinned down. It's a matter of where you're allowed to park. If you can park in the science fiction bookstore, that's good. If you can park in the other bookstore, that's really good. If people come and buy it at Amazon, that's really good.
I'm sure I must have readers from 20 years ago who are just despairing of the absence of cyberstuff, or girls with bionic fingernails. But that just the way it is. All of that stuff reads so differently now. I think nothing dates more quickly than science fiction. Nothing dates more quickly than an imaginary future. It's acquiring a patina of quaintness even before you've got it in the envelope to send to the publisher.
Amazon.com: So do you think that's your own career path, that you're less interested in imagining a future, or do you think that the world is changing?
Gibson: I think it's actually both. Until fairly recently, I had assumed that it was me, me being drawn to use this toolkit I'd acquired when I was a teenager, and using my old SF toolkit in some kind of attempt at naturalism, 21st-century naturalistic fiction. But over the last five to six years it's started to seem to me that there's something else going on as well, that maybe we're in what the characters in my novel Idoru call a "nodal point," or a series of them. We're in a place where things could just go anywhere. A couple of weeks ago I happened to read Charlie Stross's argument as to why he believes that there will never, ever be any manned space travel. It's not going to happen. We're not going to colonize Mars. All of that is just a big fantasy. And it's so convincing. I read that and I'm like, "My god, there goes so much of the fiction I read as a child."
From Publishers Weekly
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Top Customer Reviews
One warning: a lot of the reviews below, esp. the negative ones, have spoilers in them.
There are some interesting moments in Spook Country and some good characters, but just when you start to connect with them Gibson yanks them away. The problem here is focus, Gibson seems
to be trying to do too much in Spook Country and he isn't able to do all of it well. Had he picked one thread and developed it better he would have had a much better book.
I bought this book in Hardcover right when it was released with the expectations that it would be in the league of Patter Recognition. Unfortunately it isn't. I won't completely warn people off this book because there are so many books out there that are much worse. But I don't feel like I particularly got my moneys worth.
Spook Country was the hardest book to read of Gibson's, a very difficult read. Is he getting obsessive-compulsive? Try the shoehorning on page 71: "Inchmale understood it, though, and indeed had championed it, as soon as it was digitally possible pulling guitar lines out of obscure garage chestnuts and stretching them, like a mad jeweler elongating sturdy Victorian tableware into something insectile, post-functionally fragile, and neurologically dangerous." Really?
On the other hand, some of the descriptive verbage to me borders on genius - 126, "The Frankfort School, as they'd called themselves, had wasted no time in plunging their intellectual ovipositors repeatedly into the unsuspecting body of old-school American academia."
So you have to realy like William Gibson - which I do - to fight your way through a difficult but enjoyable read.
Pierce Scranton M.D.
author, "Death on the Learning Curve"
Early in the book, the words were so thick in meanings that I found it hard to focus on the plot. The characters were so opaque that I felt like I was wading through mud.
But I got past that, and once I was into the swing of the book and the rythem of the words, I was hooked. The characters reveal themselves slowly, like opening flowers, into fully realized people with lives and goals that swing from the mundane to the complusive.
The plot is slow at first, but then picks up. Everyone seems to be focussed on a mysterious cago container containing...well, something. Most of the characters who take the rotating narration are unaware of what's going on, but become important to the other players in their quest for the container.
In the end, the overall story is surprisingly low key, but the process to get there was worth it.
That said, this is not Gibson at his best. Some of the characters are brilliant, and others are either sketched in or shouldn't have arrived on-scene at all. The plot, such as it is, is basically an excuse to create scenes and have characters react to them. He hasn't lost his voice, but he hasn't got much to say with it here.
So, go ahead and read it, but it will be most satisfying if you go into it not expecting too much.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I tried, I tried, and tried again ... and I just couldn't make it through this book. Actually I never made it past the first 100 pages. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Donald E. Gilliland
William Gibson has never written a bad book in my opinion.Published 3 months ago by Randy R Jackson
It was a pleasure to read this novel again after a number of years. The musician references and fictional goth band were fun to meet again. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Tristan Narbrough
I can return to Spook Country again and again, and I have, though this is my first time reading on Kindle. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Peter Wake
William Gibson is truly a master of his craft. I have yet to read a single work he's written that I have not liked.Published 5 months ago by Don
Spook Country is odd - it's like William Gibson trying to write some Michael Crichton/Tom Clancy book but retain his own style. Read morePublished 6 months ago by Nick Blakey
The style of writing was very different for Mr. Gibson, in fact so different that it was boring. I could not finish this book.Published 7 months ago by Helen Kim