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Spook Country Paperback – June 3, 2008
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From The Washington Post
William Gibson has spent the bulk of his career creating vivid, intensely detailed fictional futures that reflect, with uncanny precision, the rapidly shifting realities of contemporary life. This tendency was evident in his first novel, Neuromancer, which works both as an ingeniously constructed cyber thriller and as a meditation on the impact of information technology on every aspect of human society. When, in 2003, Gibson abandoned science fiction to produce an up-to-the-minute mainstream novel called Pattern Recognition, it came as no real surprise. In his way, Gibson has always written about the here and now. But with that book, he began a remarkable exploration of post-9/11 America that continues, with undiminished vigor, in Spook Country.
Like its predecessor, Spook Country depicts a world transformed by globalization, by the threat -- and memory -- of terrorist attacks, and by the presence of proliferating technologies. But though they are set in what is recognizably the same world, these are distinctly different books. Pattern Recognition explored, among other things, the nature and practice of advertising, the power of images and the subliminal code that helps determine success or failure in the global marketplace. Spook Country, by contrast, is an overtly political book that takes an unsparing look at a country awash in confusion, fear and pervasive paranoia, a country torn apart by an endless, unpopular war in Iraq.
The plot proceeds along parallel tracks that converge in the later stages of the novel. The first concerns Hollis Henry, former lead singer for a defunct rock band called the Curfew. Hollis is now a journalist freelancing for a fledgling magazine called Node, a "European version of Wired" that has yet to publish a single issue. Its guiding spirit is Hubertus Bigend, a figure familiar to readers of Pattern Recognition. Bigend, an advertising wunderkind who trolls the culture for potentially profitable anomalies, sends Hollis in search of an eccentric recluse named Bobby Chombo. Bobby is the acknowledged master of an advanced form of Global Positioning Software used in a radical new art form called Locative Art, which builds virtual images of actual events (such as the death of film star River Phoenix) in the precise locations where these events occurred. But, as Hollis will eventually learn, Bobby's expertise has other, less esthetic, applications. Supporting narratives involve two small groups of players, each fundamentally opposed to the other. One centers on Tito, the youngest member of a Cuban/Chinese crime family based in New York City. Tito works for a mysterious old man who is -- or may once have been -- an important figure in American intelligence circles. Together, the two act out an elaborate charade aimed at passing crucial disinformation to the final group of players. The leader of this last contingent is Brown, a brusque, obsessive right-wing loyalist with unspecified connections to the American government. Brown is determined to capture Tito, the old man and the data he believes they possess, data that casts an unflattering light on the American adventure in Iraq.
These disparate storylines ultimately converge around a single common goal: a mysterious cargo container that is moving, by a circuitous route, toward an unknown destination. The container and its contents comprise what Hitchcock -- whose name is invoked in the novel -- called a MacGuffin: the single, crucial element around which everything in the narrative revolves. (The use of such Hitchcockian devices, which include the high-tech sunglasses in Virtual Light and the mysterious footage in Pattern Recognition, has become a common motif in Gibson's fiction.) Once the elements are in place, the action shifts from a variety of locales (New York, Los Angeles, Washington) to the port city of Vancouver, where the container and its contents meet a surprising fate.
Despite a full complement of thieves, pushers and pirates, Spook Country is less a conventional thriller than a devastatingly precise reflection of the American zeitgeist, and it bears comparison to the best work of Don DeLillo. Although he is a very different sort of writer, Gibson, like DeLillo, writes fiction that is powerfully attuned to the currents of dread, dismay and baffled fury that permeate our culture. Spook Country -- which is a beautifully multi-leveled title -- takes an unflinching look at that culture. With a clear eye and a minimum of editorial comment, Gibson shows us a country that has drifted dangerously from its governing principles, evoking a kind of ironic nostalgia for a time when, as one character puts it, "grown-ups still ran things." In Spook Country, Gibson takes another large step forward and reaffirms his position as one of the most astute and entertaining commentators on our astonishing, chaotic present.
Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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
Once in a great while a book comes along that transcends the events written about and explains something of deep and cosmic importance. Read morePublished 19 days ago by Fascinatingbooks
This is a silly and unnecessary book. Nearly nothing happens, and what happens doesn't make sense. I read four boring books in a row, including this one, and It's making me want to... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Surferofromantica
I enjoyed the reading of it, but as a book in a series it was just okay. Very much a place holder to me.Published 1 month ago by Jacob Hennes
What can I say? I am unconditional fan of Mr Gibson...Published 4 months ago by Gerson H Lozano Ortega
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 7 months ago by Donald E. Gilliland
William Gibson has never written a bad book in my opinion.Published 9 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 10 months ago by Tristan Narbrough