"Freerunning through cyberspace" review of "Spook Country" by Corinna Lotz

Another good review of Spook Country: can be found on the A World to Win - for a future without global capitalism (!) website (no date or time stamp entries, or reader comments published on their blog)

Freerunning through cyberspace

Review by Corinna Lotz

Corinna Lotz is a leftwing art historian and critic, and veteran of various factional splits, purges and vendettas which seem to characterise the decline of the Marxist / Stalinist / Communist / Labour intelligentsia in the United Kingdom.

Despite this, she has produced a very fair and intelligent review of Spook Country, concentrating on the global societal, real world and cyberspace aspects of the book.

N.B. this may contain plot and character teaser / "spoiler" information, depending on how many reviews you have read so far:

William Gibson, the man who coined the term cyberspace, can be placed in a long line of politically-conscious thriller writers, going back to authors like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, inventors of the hard-boiled, film-noir style.

Critics have described Cyberpunk as a metaphor for the ills of globalisation – the overweening power of corporations, corrupt and feeble governments, and oppressive surveillance societies. Gibson, along with other writers, is a leading exponent of the genre, which originally reached popular cinema screens with Blade Runner, followed by others like the Matrix trilogy and Spielberg’s Minority Report.

Having grown up in America, Gibson escaped to Canada in 1967 to avoid the Vietnam war draft. Ever since then he has lived in the Vancouver area, though still retaining his US citizenship. His first novel, Neuromancer, was a roaring success, selling over 6.5 million copies since it was published in 1985. Some have interpreted his 2003 book, Pattern Recognition, as a shift from a gloomy post-humanist world to the discovery of a new source for hope and effective action in "embodied everyday experience".

His latest thriller, Spook Country, is set in the spring of 2006, the same year in which it was written, thus fulfilling an aim he set out a decade ago: "I was trying to describe an unthinkable present and I actually feel that science fiction’s best use today is the exploration of contemporary reality rather than any attempt to predict where we are going… Earth is the alien planet now."

For those who are not techno-geeks, many expressions in Spook Country may be unfamiliar, even daunting, as in: "If she moved the PowerBook, she'd lose the WiFi from across the street, though this page would still be cached." On every page we inhabit a strange world of techno-babble. Not only WiFis and WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy, already superseded by WPA),

Very true, but there are still a lot of WEP only and even very weak WEP encryption only devices deployed around the world.

WiFi stands for Wireless Fidelity, an industry standard kite mark scheme denoting products which adhere to n agreed standard of interoperability.

WPA stands for Wi-Fi Protected Access

Despite the far stronger encryption which WPA offers over WEP, it is still just as vulnerable to Man-in-the-Middle attacks and Denial of Service attacks on the basic radio handshake control protocols, which can occur before any sort of encryption can be established between a remote portable device and the fixed line infrastructure.

but Locative Art, GPS grids, geohacking, Handspring Treo smartphones, Virgin RIFID and geo-spatial tagging systems, not to mention the more familiar iPod. All this is naturally par for the course in the hi-tech world of espionage and counter-surveillance, which is Gibson’s bread and butter.

Each short chapter shifts the action not only to a different character, but also to another location - Los Angeles, New York, Buenos Aires and Vancouver – in a bravado evocation of the Brave New World of today’s interconnected, globalised planet.

A vision of the future coexisting with the present arises slowly and mysteriously out of the meshing of the four main characters in a complex web of intrigue. Instead of a linear story line, the story is cinematically crafted out of the seemingly disparate worlds of Hollis Henry, Milgrim, Bobby Chombo and Tito.

Henry, a hard-up former member of the Curfew band, now turned freelance journalist, arrives at the Mondrian on Sunset Boulevard, one of Los Angeles's most fashionable designer hotels. In a fluent riff, Gibson conjures up those rare but exhilarating moments when reality breaks through the surreal and polluted artifice of the modern metropolis:

“… she walked back to the Mondrian through that weird, evanescent moment that belongs to every sunny morning in West Hollywood, when some strange perpetual promise of chlorophyll and hidden, warming fruit graces the air, just before the hydrocarbon blanket settles in. That sense of some peripheral and prelapsarian beauty, of something a little more than a hundred years past, but in that moment achingly present, as though the city were something you could wipe from your glasses and forget.”

Eventually Henry realises that her boss, the smooth-talking advertising tycoon, Hubertus Bigend, is using her to track a cargo container. Though she was commissioned to research Locative Art, (which uses global positioning systems and WiFi to create forms of cyber-reality) Henry is increasingly drawn into a sinister John le Carrésque "world of people following and watching other people", much against the advice of band member, Reg Inchmale.

It turns out that the same container is also being closely monitored by at least two other secret organisations. The shadowy thug Brown is an operative for an unknown agency, possibly the CIA or the Drug Enforcement Agency. Brown, who has a pathological hatred for humanity, controls an unsavoury dirty-tricks squad to counteract the efforts of a group of Cuban exiles trained in Russian "tradecraft". He has kidnapped a pill-popping junkie called Milgrim because he is fluent in Russian and its internet derivative, Volapuk. He thereby allows Brown to listen in to the Cubans, who pass iPods, loaded with data, to one another at secret rendezvous.

It is through Tito, described by Brown as an IF (Illegal Facilitor), that a notion of freedom from circumstances first makes its appearance, despite his lonely and impoverished existence as an exile, trapped by the legacy of his Cuban-Chinese intelligence Mafia background.

We are introduced obliquely to Santería, the Way of the Saints, an Afro-Caribbean religion developed as the slaves who were taken to the New World from Nigeria secretly held on to their forbidden Yoruba gods in the face of Catholicism. As Tito moves through New York City, he is accompanied by his family gods, guerrero warriors and spirits, both real and imagined:

“And soon he was simply a man walking, the orishas spread through a seemingly ordinary awareness, invisible as drops of ink in a volume of water, his pulse steady, enjoying the look of the sun on the floral ironwork that supported many of these old buildings. This was, he knew, though he avoided directly considering it, a still higher state of readiness.”

Sharp details of the cityscape are set against Tito’s memory of black student freerunners, building up to an unforgettable chase through the New York streets and squares, conjuring a balletic spirit of freedom, and defiance - not only of gravity but of sinister controllers.

Los Angeles has long been a symbol of the huge contradictions of America - extraordinary wealth, cutting-edge technology and a vast chasm between rich and poor. Gibson surfs through this world effortlessly, contrasting the hype of corporate image making with the horror of drug taking.

But Spook Country’s web is cast wider to take in the intelligence agencies and their insane wars against humanity. It poses questions about the war against Iraq, intelligence, media, reality and cyber-reality, technology is used and how musicians and creative people manage – or not – to exist in this kind of world. It is not by accident that the first Locative Art work to be viewed by Henry is the cyber-body of actor River Phoenix, a tragic victim of Tinsel Town’s lethal cocktail of religion, drugs and celebrity.

Gibson’s laid-back style perhaps disguises the complexity of his ideas. For in essence, he goes beyond facile notions of pure subjectivity to affirm the existence of a world beyond the cyberworld. Technology is part of the way humans find their way through the material world, be it through the web of GPS systems or the Internet. Cyberspace, in the end, is created by ourselves as human beings as we extend knowledge, movement and communication in a complex material world in movement and change. As we confront this world, we distinguish focal points in its web, which help us to understand and change it.

Ultimately, perhaps, the style of Spook Country is more powerful than its content and the ultimate denouement, but it certainly keeps you reading. The author says that in writing, he does not know the outcome of a plot until he completes the book. There is indeed a powerful sense of edginess, of the genuine unknown. It seems that Gibson has not lost his rebel roots.

Spook Country by William Gibson is published in hardback by Viking at £18.99

Another good, positive review, from a slightly surprising source.

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

www.williamgibson.de - 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.tumblr.com - 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 node.tumblr.com 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

RichardTomlinson.org - 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

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

Alan Turnbull's www.secret-bases.co.uk - "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 - http://CyberPunk.org.uk

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

Zero History


Zero History blog - ZeroHistory.net - 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 - ZeroHistory.net - 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 node.tumblr.com, 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.com- - 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 WikiLeakS.org 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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