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Old 15th Jul 2007, 1:08   #21
gil
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Default Re: William Gibson

Read it. Reading it again, slowly this time.
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Old 2nd Aug 2007, 9:34   #22
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Default Spook Country



I didn't realise how much I was enjoying Spook Country until I had finished it. As ever, I was captivated by the flow of words and ideas, and came to the end all too quickly.

I try, when reviewing a book, not to say too much about the plot, and, particularly in this case, there are mysteries, gradually revealed, which add to the pleasure of the experience.

William Gibson is known, primarily, for his science fiction. He has a substantial back catalogue of six novels and a volume of short stories in the sf genre, and one modern novel - Pattern Recognition.

There is a connection between Pattern Recognition and Spook Country, other than the fact that they have a character in common. Both are set in the present day, and both have at their core some generally recognized tragedy - 9-11 and Iraq, respectively. These world events, though essential to the stories, are nevertheless tangential to them, just as they are to most of our lives.

The starting point Gibson uses in Spook Country is one he often uses. A mysterious authority figure hires a specialist to find out something for him. The specialist eventually succeeds, and the result is a surprising revelation.

It's a good plot outline for a novel, and Gibson has played extensive variations on it. As with all good literature, you read it for the journey rather than the destination. Gibson's prose is not everyone's cup of tea, but it certainly is mine. To tell the truth, there seems less of Gibson's trade mark "verb-light" writing in Spook Country than in previous books. To a large extent, it reads like a rather complex thriller. His characters are engaging, his insights fresh, nothing is obvious, his locations are convincing.

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With Oshosi at his shoulder, Tito rounded the corner of the playground fence and ran toward East 16th. Oshosi wanted him out of the park and its calculable geometries of pursuit. A cab slid in front of him as he darted into the traffic on Union Square East; he went over its hood, meeting the astonished eyes of its driver as he hurtled past the windshield. The man slammed his horn and held it, and other horns woke reflexively, a sudden uneven blaring that mounted to a new crescendo as his three pursuers reached the stream of traffic.

Tito looked back and saw one of them maneuvering between bumpers with queer, high steps, as if trying to avoid wetting his feet, while holding something aloft like a token. A badge.
In Pattern Recognition, Gibson used a single protagonist method of narration. The reader experienced the whole story from Cayce Pollard's point of view. In Spook Country, he returns to the multiple viewpoint method he employed in most of his earlier novels.

To an extent, I found this a harder book to get into than Pattern Recognition, partly because of the multiple viewpoints. I was never quite sure whose "side" I was on until near the end. I miss the sf technology William Gibson used to bring to his books, but I welcome the persona he used for sf being brought to a modern novel.

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Milgrim was feeling better. He’d asked Brown for a Rize, in the little park, and Brown, engrossed in whatever he was doing on the laptop, had unzipped a pocket on its bag and handed Milgrim an entire unopened four-pack. Now, behind Brown’s upright screen, Milgrim popped a second Rize from its bubble and washed it down with the tea-water. He’d brought his book in from the car, thinking Brown would probably work on the laptop. Now he opened it.

He found a favorite chapter: “An Elite Of Amoral Supermen”.

“What’s that you keep reading?” asked Brown, unexpectedly, from the other side of the screen.

“’An elite of amoral supermen’,” Milgrim replied, surprised to hear his own voice repeat the chapter-title he’d just read.

“That’s what you all think,” said Brown, his attention elsewhere. “Liberals.”
In pre-publication interviews for Spook Country, Gibson has revealed more of his writing techniques than he has in the past. Most notable to me was his assertion that he starts the plot and characters and lets them roll, rather than plotting the book in detail first. He backs off if he spots himself forcing the action. This is not an uncommon technique among authors. Apparently, he had no idea what was in the plot-pivotal shipping container when he started the book. I guess we just have to be grateful that his subconscious writes a great story.

My initial judgement was that Spook Country is not as engaging as Pattern Recognition was. Fewer cool concepts and less exotic writing. But, like great music, Gibson's novels never seem to reveal their full richness at once, and my second reading proved more rewarding. But, importantly, it's a William Gibson novel, and there aren't enough of these in the world.

Last edited by gil; 5th Sep 2007 at 12:40.
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Old 2nd Aug 2007, 10:16   #23
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Default Re: William Gibson

Very interesting, gil. Reading it twice before commenting - now that's dedication! I liked Pattern Recognition and will keep an eye out for this.

Speaking of which, for anyone browsing in bookstores here is the UK cover:



It certainly looks as though they're packaging it more as a thriller than a piece of technopunk (or whatever that genre is he created...).
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Old 21st Aug 2007, 19:05   #24
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Default Re: William Gibson

Willam Gibson is this week's special guest on the BoingBoing podcast, also known as BoingBoingBoing. Ever wondered what happens when the biggest web nerds/celebrities in the tubes get to talk to the guy who first coined the term Cyberspace? Listen in and find out...

Link (from which there are a variety of other links to the podcast in various forms)

Edited to add: Look out, the audio quality of their skype phones is pretty dern awful!

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Old 22nd Aug 2007, 11:33   #25
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Default Re: William Gibson

Thanks for that, Db. The sound quality was as bad as you predicted. I find anything he says fascinating. He is in London next week doing a reading on Tuesday and a signing on Wednesday. I shall go to the signing.
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Old 5th Sep 2007, 13:09   #26
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Default Re: William Gibson

I had supper with William Gibson last Wednesday.

I didn't mean to blurt it out like that.

William Gibson was in London, signing copies of Spook Country at The Forbidden Planet, and I went along to get a few books signed.



He asked my name, and he remembered F:F:F, my Pattern Recognition "sense of place" site, which he had mentioned in his blog about eighteen months ago. He said it was like a sort of hypertext commentary, and that he expected a lot more to spring up. We discussed the fact that there is already a Spook Country 'hypertext'. There were, of course, other fans at the signing, and a dozen of us had supper with him at Wagamama in Soho.

As well as being, in my opinion, a great author and visionary, he is also very personable. His voice is very distinctive, and he discusses things fluently. Some of what he said over the course of the day is also in this video.

At supper I talked with him, inevitably, about books. Borges, Rushdie and Eco were mentioned. He is enthusiastic about Borges, as I already knew, and had tried The Satanic Verses and Umberto Eco without apparent enthusiasm.

Last edited by gil; 30th Aug 2010 at 19:35.
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Old 15th Sep 2007, 18:43   #27
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Default Re: William Gibson

Spook Country.

Core dump of brain in progress - please stand back

Way back before music went digital, John Prine wrote this:
We are living in the future, tell you how I know:
I read it in the paper - Fifteen years ago


When William Gibson starts using the word "cyberspace" as a plot point, you sit up and take notice. And when he starts talking about virtual reality, dont' start shaking your head. Yeah, that stuff with the plastic helmets and the boxy graphics has seemed like a very old and useless party trick since back in the 90s. But what Gibson is aiming for here is not so much a virtual reality novel as a post-VR novel - in the same sense that "post-modern" doesn't mean "non-modern" or "post-9/11" doesn't mean "we've forgotten 9/11". It's about what happens when something has become so embedded in reality that it IS reality; it's, funnily enough, a novel about borders. Or perhaps, the absence of them.
Quote:
"See-bare-espace," Odile pronounced, gnomically, "it is everting."
"'Everything'? What is?"
"See-bare-espace," Odile confimed, "everts." She made a gesture with her hands that reminded Hollis, in some dimly unsettling way, of the crocheted model uterus her Family Life Education teacher had used as an instructional aid.
"Turns itself inside out," offered Alberto, by way of clarification. "'Cyberspace'."
Spook Country takes place in a world where cyberspace has indeed everted, become just another aspect of the world; just as the world has shrunk to the place where geographical borders, however well-guarded, can be easily crossed if you know how (after all, what is an illegal immigrant but a real-life hacker penetrating a system with lots of black ICE?). Any reality which involves GPS locators, WiFi networks everywhere, and entire lives being carried in little memory sticks is to some extent virtual. Reality is tagged like a wiki; street artists in Gibson's now don't use spray cans, they use laptops and 3D renderings that only make sense to those in the know to make their mark on the world. The characters, as well-drawn and as human as they are, to some extent come off as avatars – each with their own title, picture and online persona in a world that's always online.
Quote:
The phrase "trusted networks" briefly made her feel like crying. She wasn't feeling as though she had any.
Now, this obviously addresses some timely issues - and surprisingly enough, by the last 100 pages as the plot becomes clearer, I'm reminded very strongly of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day. I'm not in any way suggesting that Gibson ripped Pynchon off, just that they do seem to have tapped into some of the same concerns. The informal secret-by-default societies and underground movements, the fractured narrative, the promise of a brave new world around the corner, the "resistance"... it's all vintage Pynchon themes, but Gibson being Gibson, he takes it to different (and considerably less opinionated) places. I'm also reminded of something Umberto Eco wrote in Turning Back the Clock, which I've unfortunately lent to a friend, but which goes something along the lines of how the "Big Brother is watching you" theme is hopelessly antiquated; it can be much scarier to live in a world with 6 billion big brothers all watching each other with no way of knowing who is working for whom.
Quote:
"The pop star, as we knew her" – and here he bowed slightly, in her direction – "was actually an artefact of preubiquitous media."
"Of -?"
"Of a state in which 'mass' media existed, if you will, within the world."
"As opposed to?"
"Comprising it."
Spook Country is a very multifaceted novel, touching upon technology, religion, politics, art, war, capitalism... One of those facets is a thriller, and much like with Pattern Recognition, I find myself intrigued more by the setup than with the actual plot resolution. Not so much because some of it's been done before (been watching Goldfinger, William?) but because it feels like there's something disjointed here; as if he hasn't quite thought the plot through all the way, and drops some of the interesting observations on the world in favour of a more plot-driven approach and a somewhat unsatisfactory ending about 2/3 in. It's still very intriguing – hell, I read the last 130 pages or so in one sitting – but some part of me still feels like it's a great exhibition followed by a slightly flawed dismount. His repeating some of the plot devices from Pattern Recognition probably adds to that. That's probably the reason I find myself thinking it could have been better, and I'm only going to give it a strong . But on a whole, it's a fascinating and more than slightly spooky novel. It feels like Gibson has come full circle, catching up to his younger self as the world has caught up to what, back then, sounded like science fiction, only now with much more meat on his bones. We are living in the future,
We're all driving rocket ships and talkin' with our minds
Wearin' turquoise jewelry and standing in soup lines.
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Old 16th Sep 2007, 1:21   #28
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Default Re: William Gibson

Excellent review, beer good.
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Old 11th Oct 2007, 13:06   #29
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Default Re: William Gibson

I finished Spook Country about fifteen minutes ago and just loved it. I can understand BG's hazy misgivings and can think of nothing to add that he and Gil haven't already said. Erm...

Nope.
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Old 22nd May 2009, 23:51   #30
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Default Re: William Gibson

The Difference Engine. (William Gibson and Bruce Sterling)

So I just finished this, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

On the one hand, the world-building part of it is excellent and even believable (at least in an "i buy it as fiction" way). Computers happen to be invented 100 years earlier so that the industrial revolution and the information revolution coincide; now you have Victorians in 1850s London trying to make sense of a world where hackers (or rather "clackers", given that nobody's invented plastic, magnetic tape or transistors yet) control the information...
Quote:
"But that's theft!"
" 'Borrowing,' according to him. Says he'll give me back my cards, as soon as he's had 'em copied. That way I don't lose nothin', you see?"
Sybil felt dazed. Was he teasing her? "But isn't that stealing, somehow?"
"Try arguing that with Samuel bloody Houston! He stole a whole damn country once, stole it clean and picked it to the bone!"
...where the United States quickly fell apart into several warring nations thanks to the UK's automated intelligence service, where rationalism has taken over completely (Lord Babbage, Lord Darwin, etc - Disraeli is just a hack writer) and the Luddites have become not only enemies of the state but outright terrorists - thoughtcrime, du-du-du-dudu-du. And they write it all like a saucier Englisher Jule Verne novel, complete with mustache-twirling villains and upright gentleman "heroes" saying things like
Quote:
"Some folk pass their very lives in the mud of the Thames."
"Who's that then?" asked Tom.
"Mudlarks," Fraser told him, picking his way. "Winter and summer, they slog up to their middles, in the mud o' low tide. Hunting lumps o' coal, rusty nails, any river-rubbish that will fetch a penny."
"Are you joking?" Tom asked.
"Children mostly," Fraser persisted calmly, "and a deal of feeble old women."
"I don't believe you," Brian said. "If you told me Bombay or Calcutta, I might grant it. But not London!"
"I didn't say the wretches were British," Fraser said. "Your mudlarks are foreigners, mostly. Poor refugees."
"Well, then," Tom said, relieved.
...so that you have to keep your eyes open to notice that it's actually women doing most of the heavy lifting in the novel, with Ada Lovelace the original clacker, despite still being thought of as lesser creatures. It's two paradigm shifts at once. Or probably more than that.

Unfortunately, the plot is convoluted to say the least (or possibly just badly thought out). It's told in several interlocking storylines that don't really interlock, that don't really feel like they get resolved. Plus, with most of the characters being rather stuck-up unlikable fools in a lot of ways, it's difficult to find one to latch on to - especially since they tend to get written out for a few hundred pages. It's entertaining as hell up to a point, but when everything just drags on, I start to lose interest.

Fascinating effort though, and I'll never not like the idea of steampunk. I might have to go back to this one at some point.

ETA: and reading the thread back, that's almost exactly the same problems I had (to a much smaller extent) with Spook Country. Maybe it's something between me and Gibson.
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