John Clute reviews William Gibson's Spook Country

The famous science fiction reviewer John Clute has reviewed William Gibson's Spook Country in a peculiarly worded review in his Science Fiction Weekly Excessive Candour Column entitled Casper Country.

I assume that William Gibson is friendly with John Clute, who is an expatriate Canadian who spends a lot of time in London's Camden area, the setting for part of William Gibson's Pattern Recognition, There is an entry on William Gibson's blog which says:

I was in John Clute's living room, one morning, toward the start of a book tour, looking out at Camden High Street,

In this peculiar review of Spook Country John Clute appears to be trying to outdo William Gibson in his use of language, and obscure references, something which he did not do with in his much more straightforward, and easier to read review of Patttern Recognition

July 09, 2007

Excessive Candour

Casper Country

Casper the Friendly Ghost is a children's comic book / animated cartoon character i.e. a Spook

By John Clute

After sticking its nose out of doors into spook country, which is 2007 made visible, William Gibson's new novel does a runner, goes to ground where most of his tales go to ground: in a safe house, out of time, sacred for the nonce.

nonce has several meanings.

But before he can deliver his cast into safety, they need to be harrowed

Just like Pattern Recognition, to which it is a sequel of sorts, Spook Country spends most of its inch subjecting its protagonists to the felt chaos of the world Gibson has so consistently augured over the years, and which now fills the inside of our skins: an encrypted world, a world whose joins gape at the beck of codings we cannot trace, a world as intrinsicate

"intrinsicate" - does the reviewer really mean "intricate" or "intrinsic" ?

with the grammars of command as some great graphic novel tattooed into the mind's eye. So Spook Country moves us.

I say "us," because Gibson has always had an uncanny ability to make his readers feel as vulnerable as the characters he creates to utter human fates in the noise. Inside the world of a Gibson novel, under the terrible Symmes sun

Another deliberately obscure reference, probably to John Cleves Symmes Jr., a proponent of a Hollow Earth theory.

that brands from within the skins we used to wear, readers and utterands

Apparently the peculiar word "utterands" is one which Clute has coined himself, when reviewing some of Thomas Pynchon's writings:

"utterands: people-shaped utterances who illuminate the stories of the old world that their Author has placed before us in funeral array"

tend to express a kind of meat-puppet digitalis, like marathon dancers unable to stop until the music kills them. In a Gibson novel, feeling sick unto death is waking up. So it is almost always a relief when he forgives our exposure to the real world and closes his books in some house-sized haven, enclave, tax-free zone, somewhere that is not an iteration—somewhere that is not a case—of Diktat World.

But I'm afraid the experience of relief in Spook Country is rather less poignant than before. The reason for this may be fairly simple. Spook Country is a bridge book, the second volume of a trilogy. There are various ways to describe the effect of second volumes of trilogy written by authors of merit: simple let-down; a sense of attenuation; a feeling that one is having to plod through the rituals of an Established Church before the new Messiah comes in volume three to bring Armageddon; an eerie recognition that history is being replayed as farce.

The middle book of a trilogy does not have to be as John Clute describes.

It was certainly not true for William Gibson's Count Zero in his first loose trilogy.

Walking among too many survivors

It is this last sensation that, I think, governs Spook Country, because it is, literally, a comic novel, maybe Gibson's first. This is not to argue that Gibson's sensorium has been muted out of hearing, or that his deeply bleak sense of the geopolitics of the early 21st century has somehow been temporized: though in a sense that is exactly what has happened here. The real world of Pattern Recognition circumambiates

The Google search engine rightly asks

"Do you mean circumambulates ?"

even though it finds two uses if the word "circumambiates" in a couple of US Patents and an academic essay on philosophers like Martin Heidegger and Literature, presumably translated from the German.

the new novel, but somehow Spook Country takes place during time-out. It is a friendly match. It takes place in haven country.

The most obvious signal of this, beyond the comical circus-act exorbitance of every action sequence, is that there are too many survivors. Nobody important dies in the book, there is no shocked pause of prot death

Presumably "prot" means "protagonist"

to give aghast and breathing room. As a matter of fact, Spook Country is so protective of the rules of haven

What are "the rules of haven" ? Something like the "Law of Sanctuary" or the "Right of Asylum"

that—as far as it is possible to calculate as regards a complicated three-plot narrative whose protagonists have cousins and ancient patrons wise as godlings

Clute could perhaps have used the expression "minor deities" instead of "godlings"

and ex-lovers and fans by the dozen, none of whom stay around for long—nobody dies at all. This is Hiroshima Just Kidding country. It's Casey-at-the-Bat.

Neither the "Hiroshima Just Kidding " nor the Casey at the Bat references seem to make much sense to me.

All of this, one must emphasize, is clearly deliberate. Spook Country is a comedy. It is exempt from the world it knows.

The three storylines all focus sooner or later on a quest to learn about, or to abscond with, or to subvert the mysterious contents of a 40-foot container which has been—"Flying-Dutchman"-like—heisted from freighter to freighter on the high seas across the entire globe for months or years, and which somehow seems barred from ever reaching port. In Spook Country, it is finally brought to dock, in the haven of Vancouver, where the last action-filled stages of an elaborate sting operation are vividly unfolded on the page, though the actual comeuppance, when the container is opened—rather cheerily evoking the climax of the Robert Aldrich film of Mickey Spillane's Kiss Me, Deadly—must be imagined: as nothing is scheduled to happen until after the book ends.

c.f. this detailed synopsis of Kiss Me Deadly

And even then, when we imagine the comically jiggered contents of the container being opened, we are not intended to imagine anything like Terminus.

Which "Terminus" is this a reference to ? Probably this 1987 film "Terminus" starring Johnny Hallyday and Juergen Prochnow

In the end, the object all sublime that governs the complicated bait-and-switch sting operation that governs Spook Country is not a Boojum

c.f. Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark"

at all, but a very nearly perfect and in fact rather hilarious MacGuffin.

I wonder what this "Maltese Falcon" MacGuffin plot device will turn out to be in the end. This recent William Gibson interview states that he did not initially know what it would turn out to be, even after writing hundreds of pages.

Waiting for the world to come

The implications of the title of the book are, of course, various. It evokes intelligence and counter-intelligence operations; it evokes dreams (they occur often) which evoke realities to come; it evokes a media-irradiated inside-outside world haunted by its own footage, and makes the barely SF suggestion that we will soon be able to navigate preset private worlds intricately nested within the actual, as though we were pacing secret labyrinths, or eruvs, that define our own sacred, temporally immune worlds. It also evokes a world which frightens one half to death, though not here: outside the eruv, outside the Sabbath space Spook Country inhabits.

eruv is being used in the sense of the Orthodox Jewish symbolic boundary around a community or ghetto, centered on the synagogue, a bit like a Parish boundary.

Does using the word "eruv" three times in this review make sense ?

And of course each of the storylines spooks the others.

There is no need to delve into any of them here. They are expertly deployed—the female freelance journalist and ex-rock star who finds herself working for Hubertus Bigend (who dominates Pattern Recognition but whose main function here is to gossip and to provide unlimited funding for the plot to progress) on a story about "locative art," which is the art of implanting on the original scene veridical representations

"veridical" is an over elaborate way of saying "truthful", but surely "locative art", involving GPS receivers and some kind of "heads up display" units cannot be "truthful representations" of the original scene ?

(what one might call spooks) of some past event, like the death of River Phoenix, replacing "the untagged, unscripted world" with a score, a code, a tattoo; the tiny mafia family who seem to do nothing but good and whose main utterand has an almost supernatural closeness to the undergods who twin the grotesque Christian pantheon and who also twin from within (spookily) our visible 2007; and the comic-turn ex-government team of agents trying to recover something mysterious that got contaminatingly stolen

"contaminatingly stolen" means what exactly ?

from those who raped post-invasion Iraq to gain it. Accompanying these dances of quest, whose climax is MacGuffin, are moments when the eruv gives us peepholes into the lost domains of Now. "Intelligence," Gibson has one of his preternaturally savvy cast utter as though repeating a truism, "is advertising turned inside out." And we shiver.

We shiver, because we know that the Vancouver we have all landed up in for the duration of this holiday tale is no more a free lunch than the place we are sitting right now while we turn the pages of Spook Country. Because we know that haven is not what we're going to get next time. I think Spook Country makes us shiver because we are waiting for the world to tell us volume three.

Is John Clute being deliberately pretentious with his use of obscure language and references ?

About this blog

This blog is discusses and analyses the new book Spook Country by cyberpunk author William Gibson, published in August 2007.

This will be primarily from a United Kingdom perspective, as some of the themes of espionage and surveillance and hidden forces really do resonate in our endemic Surveillance Society.

This blog has been described, quite fairly, as "otaku-worthy immersion"

Email Contact

email: blog @ SpookCountry [dot] co [dot] uk

Here is our PGP public encryption key or download it via a PGP Keyserver.

Hints and Tips for Whistleblowers

Please take the appropriate precautions if you are planning to blow the whistle on shadowy and powerful people in Government or commerce, and their dubious policies. The mainstream media and bloggers also need to take simple precautions to help preserve the anonymity of their sources e.g.

Spook Country Links

William Gibson Books discussion bulletin board Spook Country *NO SPOILERS* forum

William Gibson Books discussion bulletin board Spook Country - *SPOILERS OK* forum

William Gibson video about "Spook Country" on YouTube and on the official website.

William Gibson Links

William Gibson blog - written by the author himself, on which he has test marketed fragments of his novel Spook Country whilst writing it.

William Gibson Books discussion bulletin board - William Gibson book promtion website in Germany

William Gibson aleph - lots of resources about William Gibson's works.

The Cyberpunk Project - some online texts of some of William Gibson's writings hosted in Russia.

Wikipedia Links

Wikipedia entry for "Spook Country"

Wikipedia "Spook Country" page edit history RSS feed or Atom feed

The character "Hubertus Bigend" has his own fictional Wikipedia entry in "Spook Country", which has now become now a real one.

Node Magazine

  • Node Magazine - a fictional magazine which "seems to be actively preventing the kind of buzz that magazines normally cultivate before they begin to exist" mentioned in the hints given about the Spook Country book, which has already been created online by a fan (patternboy), before the book has been published.
  • - Node Magazine is publishing 2 Chapter Summaries and Quotations each day in the 42 day countdown to the official publication of Spook Country
  • Spook Country blog's "cloud of hyperlinks" in numerical chapter order - commentary and annotations on the annotations to Spook Country.

Fictional British TV Spooks

James Bond 007

Stylish, if somewhat far fetched, BBC TV drama based on MI5 the Security Service - Spooks

BBC children's TV series M.I.High

2008 spin off TV series from Spooks [spooks] code 9 , set a few years into the future in 2013, in the Orwellian Police State which has emerged after a nuclear bomb attack on London.

Fictional Spooks

The Spy Wise Blog by Wesley Britton

Real Spooks

MI5 - the Security Service - counter-espionage, counter-terrorism, domestic surveilance

GCHQ - the Government Communications Head Quarters - intercepting and deciphering enemy communications, and protecting UK ones.

MI6 - SIS - the Secret Intelligence Service - mostly foreign intelligence - not quite like depicted in James Bond films.

Ex - Spooks - Richard Tomlinson - still being harassed by his former employer MI6. There are also links to Cryptome's archives of articles and alleged, unproven, lists of names of former or mcurrent MI6 agents (including, improbably, some UK Ambassadors), which caused lots of controversy. Tomlinson denies publishing anything not already in the public domain.

Martin Ingram, Welcome To The Dark Side - former British Army Intelligence operative in Northern Ireland.

Operation Billiards - Mitrokhin or Oshchenko ? Michael John Smith - seeking to overturn his Official Secrets Act conviction in the GEC case.

The Dirty Secrets of MI5 & MI6 - Tony Holland, Michael John Smith and John Symond - stories and chronologies.

Naked Spygirl - Olivia Frank

Spooky Info - including various spooky documents which some Government agencies would prefer not to be online.

Alan Turnbull's - "An entertaining guide to using Internet-based research tools – Ordnance Survey's maps, Getmapping's aerial photos and Google Earth! to reveal the UK's "hidden" MoD facilities and military sites"

Eye Spy Magazine - " The world's leading newsstand magazine on intelligence and espionage" - photos, articles, book reviews, private sector surveillance equipment and services adverts etc. N.B. Sometimes uncritical articles on various anti-terrorism and espionage topics, presumably in order to keep in favour with their anonymous sources.

Historical Spooks

Science Museum, London - Science of Spying Exhibition - for Spy Kids of all ages until September 2007.

Bletchley Park - "Historic site of secret British codebreaking activities during WWII and birthplace of the modern computer."

Imperial War Museum. London

Spooky CyberPunks and CyberGoths

The Dose is a "free, downloadable PDF zine ranging from industrial and gothic music to indie game development, Japanese visual kei, eyecandy, cyberpunkness" produced in Hungary.The three (so far annual) issues so far, with another promised in July 2007 contain plenty of CyberPunk and CyberGoth images and reviews, with the occasional reference back to William Gibson or other cyberpunk fiction authors.

Spy / Surveillance Art Projects

Spy Box - "A digital camera inside a parcel looks out through a small hole and captures images of its journey through the postal system. The Spy Box was sent from my studio to the gallery taking an image every 10 seconds recording a total of 6994 images these were then edited together to create an animated slideshow." - by artist Tim Knowles

Benjamin Males - "Face Targeting and Analysis System (2008) - Software designed to find and analyse faces in a video stream. First stage in an ongoing project looking at the potential misuse of technology"

London CyberPunk Tourist Guide

As part of the preparations for William Gibson book signing and lecture event promoting Spook Country in London, during August 2007, this "local knowledge" guide to places of interest to cyberpunk fans was compiled, and has been subsequently expanded.

London CyberPunk Tourist Guide -

Please feel free to add comments or send emails, to keep it up to date.

Zero History


Zero History blog - - discussion and hyper link cloud enhanced literary criticism of William Gibson's forthcoming novel, entitled Zero History, which is due to be published on 7th September 2010.

See the Fragments of a Hologram Bill thread on the William Gibson Books discussion forum for the snippets of writing which have been released for discussion to the public so far.

Syndicate this site (XML):

Zero History


Zero History blog - - discussion and hyper link cloud enhanced literary criticism of William Gibson's forthcoming novel, entitled Zero History, which is due to be published on 7th September 2010.

See the Fragments of a Hologram Bill thread on the William Gibson Books discussion forum for the snippets of writing which have been released for discussion to the public so far.

Cover Artwork

US cover art (the design we prefer):

UK cover art:

See how the cover artwork designs have changed slightly over time in the Cover Artwork category archive

"Spook Country" hyperlink cloud annotation

Our "Spook Country" hyperlink cloud annotation - re-orderd into numerical Chapter sequence

The Node Magazine, which this was a collaborative online contribution to, was online even before the official publication date of the first hardback edition of the book in August 2007.

This has been commented on by the author William Gibson, and described by Emeritus Professor of English Literature John Sutherland as "the future of literary crticism"

Campaign Buttons

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Free Gary McKinnon, who lives in London, is accused of hacking in to over 90 US military computer systems, and is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

FreeFarid_150.jpg - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Watching Them, Watching Us, UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
Spy Blog - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Open Rights Group
Open Rights Group

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves." The project makes use of Tor as part of their anonymity infrastructure.

BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

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