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Spook Country Paperback – March 3, 2009

230 customer reviews
Book 2 of 3 in the Blue Ant Series

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Editorial Reviews Review

Now that the present has caught up with William Gibson's vision of the future, which made him the most influential science fiction writer of the past quarter century, he has started writing about a time--our time--in which everyday life feels like science fiction. With his previous novel, Pattern Recognition, the challenge of writing about the present-day world drove him to create perhaps his best novel yet, and in Spook Country he remains at the top of his game. It's a stripped-down thriller that reads like the best DeLillo (or the best Gibson), with the lives of a half-dozen evocative characters connected by a tightly converging plot and by the general senses of unease and wonder in our networked, post-9/11 time.

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'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: 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. 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. 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. 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."

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Set in the same high-tech present day as Pattern Recognition, Gibson's fine ninth novel offers startling insights into our paranoid and often fragmented, postmodern world. When a mysterious, not yet actual magazine, Node, hires former indie rocker–turned–journalist Hollis Henry to do a story on a new art form that exists only in virtual reality, Hollis finds herself investigating something considerably more dangerous. An operative named Brown, who may or may not work for the U.S. government, is tracking a young, Russian-speaking Cuban-Chinese criminal named Tito. Brown's goal is to follow Tito to yet another operative known only as the old man. Meanwhile, a mysterious cargo container with CIA connections repeatedly appears and disappears on the worldwide Global Positioning network, never quite coming to port. At the heart of the dark goings-on is Bobby Chombo, a talented but unbalanced specialist in Global Positioning software who refuses to sleep in the same spot two nights running. Compelling characters and crisp action sequences, plus the author's trademark metaphoric language, help make this one of Gibson's best. 8-city author tour. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; Reprint edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425226719
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425226711
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (230 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,391 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Gibson was born in the United States in 1948. In 1972 he moved to Vancouver, Canada, after four years spent in Toronto. He is married with two children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Constant Reader on September 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have always been a fan of Gibson's, and so I was surprised by some of the negative reviews of this book-- and even more surprised now that I've read it! Gibson's writing hallmarks are here-- deft characterization, gorgeous writing, a way of presenting the world of (as one reviewer put it) product placement through a new perspective. In this book, echoes of other characters can be found-- musician-turned-journalist Hollis reminded me of Marly, and tranquillizer-addict Milgrim drifts through his experiences with a distance much like Laney's in Idoru. What's changed, however, is that instead of projecting his story into the future, it's set in a present-day which is as much science-fiction to most people as the future could be-- a world where wartime corruption, Malay straits pirates, artists working in GPS, and Ativan addicts come together and drift apart again. Gibson himself pokes fun at his own Neuromancer vision of VR, and suggests that we are all doing it now-- just without the gloves and goggles. This book was clever, thought-provoking, and surprisingly gentle in the end, with its characters and also with its vision of our (possibly not all that bleak) world, with lots of possibilities for redemption or at least continuing forward-- and, I thought, well-paced from beginning to end.

One warning: a lot of the reviews below, esp. the negative ones, have spoilers in them.
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109 of 134 people found the following review helpful By Geoffrey Kleinman VINE VOICE on September 15, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gibson's Pattern Recognition is brilliant, Spook Country is not. While not a particularly awful book, it's just not a very good one. Gibson tries to tell 3 disconnected stories in parallel - a narrative device that never seems to really connect. When the 3 story lines of the novel do finally collide, the payoff is so weak and anticlimactic that it makes the arduous journey through this book feel even more worthless.

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.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Pierce E. Scranton Jr. on September 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've read everything William Gibson has written, and I guess that in and of itself betrays that I like his work. He has a sort of detached writing style, reminding me of "Blade Runner" or "L.A. Confidential." The characters don't reveal much of themselves, and sometimes their material possessions seem more important than how they feel and who they are.

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"
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33 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Adam Z on September 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Okay, let's start by acknowledging the truth: you are going to read this book, because it's William Gibson, and you and I both read everything he writes.

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.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By S. Potter on September 24, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Gibson is back with his tradmark use of language to set mood and feeling, but he laid it on a bit thick in this one.

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.
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