Village Voice review of William Gibson's "Spook Country" compares it with his previous novel "Pattern Recognition"

[via oddmanrush]

The Village Voice has an interesting review of Spook Country which concentrates on the similarities and diffrences with William Gibson's previous novel Pattern Recognition, especially with regard to Hubertus Bigend and the main female protagonists in the two novels Cayce and Hollis.

The Anxiety Maze
Magic capitalism and crazy Russian typewriters in William Gibson's new Spook Country
by Nathan Lee
July 31st, 2007 1:38 PM

"Magic capitalism" invokes the literary style of "magic realism", which was influenced by the pioneering Jorge Luis Borges, an author who William Gibson admires, and who has even written a forward to an edition of the Labyrinth anthology.

There are Santeria deities as well as cyberspace in Spook Country

N.B. may contain plot and character teaser / "spoiler" information, depending on how many reviews you have read so far. If you are in the process of reading a copy of Spook Country you will not be reading this review, or anything else, until you have turned the last page !

It begins with a woman far from home, rising from a strange bed in an immaculate space. Detached but alert, she reflects on her surroundings. Strong winds send palm trees thrashing on the street below, "like dancers miming the final throes of some sci-fi plague." The high-end refrigerator in the empty kitchen is so new, she notes, the interior "smells only of cold and long-chain monomers." Thinking about her job here, she's all alone with her thoughts. Unless you count the robots.

This is a composite description of the opening chapter of two different novels by William Gibson. In Pattern Recognition, his 2003 bestseller, a "cool hunter" named Cayce Pollard has arrived in London to consult on the logo of a multinational sneaker company. In Spook Country, Gibson's latest, a woman named Hollis Henry has just arrived in Los Angeles on assignment for a magazine called Node to investigate "locative art," an underground movement of tech-savvy artists into the mapping, annotation, and holographic reshaping of virtual space.

Surely ot is the other way around ? GPS navigation and wireless data links in "Locative Art" or "Augmented Reality" is about annotating and reshaping one's perceptions of real physical locations with a virtual cyberspace overlay, rather than the "reshaping of virtual space".

Cayce and Hollis are in similar circumstances for the exact same reason. Spook Country is a sequel of sorts to Pattern Recognition, an extension of its territory and themes. Masterminding the narrative of both is the sinister and seductive Hubertus Bigend, founder of the avant-garde advertising firm Blue Ant. In Pattern Recognition, he's described as "a nominal Belgian who looks like Tom Cruise on a diet of virgin's blood and truffled chocolates." His Wikipedia entry in Spook Country describes him as the child of a wealthy industrialist and a sculptress with links to the Situationist International.

Will there ever be a real Wikipedia entry on Hubertus Bigend, which quotes the fictional one in Spook Country, or will that level of recursion confuse the Wikipedia editorial swarm, and distract them into an infinite Ko stalemate ?

Bigend is Gibson's image of hyper-capitalist consciousness evolved to such sophistication that it becomes indistinguishable from art, philosophy, even magic. Advertising for Bigend isn't a means to make money, but a method for tapping into the ancient reptile mind at the base of consciousness and culture. In Pattern Recognition, he engages Cayce to locate the author of "the footage," a sequence of enigmatic film clips randomly posted on the Internet that spawn a global cult of enthusiasts and explicators. When Spook Country reveals the utterly banal use that Bigend makes of this knowledge, the effect is chilling. More disturbing is the sense that he may be the only character in these stories who's discovered a way to embrace and diffuse the accelerated terrors and inchoate anxieties of the post-9/11 world.

Is Hubertus Bigend not simply on his way to becoming a sort of ultra rich Joseph Virek from Count Zero ?

    "Many things, Marly, are perpetrated in my name. Aspects of my wealth have become autonomous, by degrees; at times they even war with one another. Rebellion in the fiscal extremities."
Or is he an aspect of William Gibson himself, who also seems to be forever "cool hunting" clever and luxurious designer objects and gadgets ?
Where the thriller mechanics of Pattern Recognition were motored by the energies of two super-savvy media adepts, Bigend and Cayce, the heroes of Spook Country are more evidently puppets.

Surely the characters in Pattern Recognition were also being heavily manipulated ?

Hollis is assigned to the locative-art beat not for her journalistic chops, but because her celebrity as the former lead singer of the indie-rock band Curfew is the precise tool needed to pry access to the goal: the location of a mysterious shipping container known to Bobby Chombo, genius of the locative set (and Curfew fan).

Spook Country triangulates the Hollis/Bigend narrative with two other plot lines, each told from the point of view of someone with a limited understanding of their role in some obviously larger and certainly dangerous dynamic.

Limited information is what you get in real life - all seeing, all knowing truly free markets, in the economic sense , are fiction or are very trivial.

Milgrim is a junkie fluent in Volapuk, the pseudo-Cyrillic text invented by Russians grappling with the Roman keyboards of their first computers. He has been kidnapped by Brown, a man with a large supply of pharmaceuticals and a need to eavesdrop on Volapuk text messages. These are being sent amongst members of an elite Cuban-Chinese spy family with ties to the CIA and the KGB, and have direct bearing on Tito, our guide to this wildest of the Spook Country plots, as he engages in such cloak-and-dagger routines as the slipping of a data-encrypted iPod to an operative in the shoe department of Prada.

None of which begins to describe the narrative complexity of Spook Country, with its fugue-like advancement of these melodies toward an oddly harmonic resolution at a port in Vancouver.

My reading of Spook Country did detect some recurring phrases and images (e.g. gray - green colours) , which could well be thought of as a musical fugue.

Not that it matters. Compelling for their own sake, the techno-thriller mechanics of these recent Gibson novels are largely beside the point. Gibson doesn't engineer his labyrinthine plots to disclose the meaning at their core: The maze is the message.

Why Hollis is at the Standard is ultimately less interesting than how she feels in being there. A thousand novelists could arrange for the portentous arrival of Bigend in the lobby, but only Gibson could describe how "the small dry sound of an envelope being slid under the door" of Hollis's room, "familiar from her life on tour, suddenly triggered, as it always had, the atavistic mammalian fear of nest invasion."

Pattern Recognition was partly concerned with specifying the ambient sense of invasiveness in all aspects of life after the collapse of the towers. Taking that anxiety as given, Spook Country is the more reflective, less unnerving of the two novels. Concentrating on a single protagonist focused the textural intensity of Gibson's prose; splitting his attention over three has diffused its hallucinatory voltage.

There was speculation and comment from critics and from William Gibson himself, about the single person viewpoint in Pattern Recognition. This reviewer seems to prefer that style to the 3 card trick juggling of the three viewpoints, but since the 3 groups effectively merged into 2 towards the end, dramatic tension did not really suffer at all.

Yet even at half-wattage, it illuminates our techno-psychic landscape like nothing else in contemporary letters.

Nathan Lee is giving Spook Country a positive review from a literati viewpoint, rather than a technological or cyberpunk one, or from the perspective of those people who inhabit "Spook Country".

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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