LA Times review of "Spook Country" - where are the UK media reviews ?

The Los Angeles Times (Sunday edition), another major mainstream publication, which will reach a large (United States) readership, has a review of Spook Country, which is again a positive one.

When will the critical mass of US mainstream media reviews be reached, which may wake up the United Kingdom media, who seem to be ignoring the book, despite its slightly earlier publication here ? Until Spook Country is "mentioned in the media", it will not be made available widely in bookshops outside the major cities, especially the large retail chains like W.H.Smiths or Waterstones.

The reviewer Ed Park (formerly a literary editor at New York's "Village Voice" until it got taken over by The New York Times last year) seeks to draw comparisons with a couple of American novels, with which I am not familiar (are you ?) namely: Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, and Willam Gaddis's The Recognitions

Luckily, these days a few seconds, via a world wide web search engine, is sufficient to find decent articles about these two books, something which was impossible when they were written.

Ed Park also alludes to to William Gibson's previous novel Pattern Recognition, concentrating on apophenia and, presumably, the William Gibson discussion board thread on the name "Hubertus Bigend".

'Spook Country,' a novel by William Gibson
Technology and consumerism mingle and turn monstrous as a young journalist pursues an elusive lead for a story.
By Ed Park
August 5, 2007

N.B. may contain plot and character teaser / "spoiler" information, depending on how many reviews (or how much of the novel) you have read so far:


Spook Country

A Novel

William Gibson

G.P. Putnam's Sons:

374 pp., $25.95

CONSIDER this frank greeting in William Gibson's "Spook Country": "I've just checked the number of your Google hits, and read your Wikipedia entry." This is what translates as fame today: a foothold in the ether, an identity composed by a faceless committee of unknown size. Gibson famously coined the term "cyberspace" in his reality-crashing, paradigm-shifting 1984 debut, "Neuromancer," and his conception of its "consensual hallucination" rings truer now, more than two decades later, as we pursue terminally framed existences teeming with hyperlinks and blogs, worlds of Warcraft and second lives.

The Googlee in question is Hollis Henry, singer in a defunct 1990s cult band, the Curfew. She's now a journalist working on a story for a shadowy magazine, Node, that hasn't published an issue yet. (It's variously and hilariously described as a would-be Wired, generating sub-rosa buzz by its very anti-buzz.) Cults, shadows, secrets: in other words, Gibson country.

Hollis is a character in the mold of Cayce Pollard, the logo-allergic "coolhunter" of Gibson's 2003 novel "Pattern Recognition." Both of these appealing heroines -- curious, charismatic and essentially chaste -- share DNA with Oedipa Maas in Thomas Pynchon's "The Crying of Lot 49," all of them women on the verge of nerve-wracking conspiracies in which, Gibson writes, "possession of information amounts to involvement."

The ostensible subject of an article that Hollis is writing is Alberto Corrales, a holographic artist who painstakingly constructs virtual-reality celebrity death scenes at their actual locations. Hollis' research takes her into unexpected places, and suddenly she finds herself plowing the dark in search of a nebulous shipping container. Corrales explains to Hollis how his project suggests that "the world we walk around in would be channels" if everyone had their own VR helmets, tuning in only to what they wanted to see. ("We're all doing VR, every time we look at a screen," he says -- Gibson has axioms to burn.)

The narrative of "Spook Country" overlays two other frequencies -- two other protagonists -- and the connections among all three are initially unclear. Milgrim is a code cracker and addict who is dependent on Brown, a violent man who might be with the CIA; their quarry, Tito, is Cuban-Chinese ("indeterminately ethnic") and a preternaturally limber young man whose family has roots in counterfeiting and intelligence: His actions are guided by the spirits of Santería. Needless to say, everyone's questing for the enigmatic shipping container, wherever it might be.

"Spook Country" is an oblique sequel to "Pattern Recognition," or, better yet, the book is its antic anagram, expanding themes and re-upping a few characters. Here again Gibson gives us a present (more precisely, early 2006 -- Tower Records lives!) in which the skies are the color of steel, no matter the city, and the outlines of a chaotic future can be discerned. Sentence for sentence, few authors equal Gibson's gift for the terse yet poetic description, the quotable simile -- people and products are nailed down with a beautiful precision approximating the platonic ideal of the catalog. An ex-bandmate now wears a " 'Bladerunner' soccer-mom look," a "Bluetoothed bouncer"

Those two phrases stood out for me as well.

patrols a bar and, when Gibson registers a "delirious surge of graffiti, a sort of street-fractal Hokusai wave," the phrasing is itself a delirious surge of pleasure-center prose.

Still, mystery abounds, myriad paranoias pulsating underneath the immaculate surfaces. Hollis sometimes visualizes a "Mongolian Death Worm" -- the "mascot" of her anxiety -- burrowing beneath the dunes of her consciousness, a nod to the amplified annelids of Frank Herbert's "Dune."

I think that it is the description of the Mongolian Death Worm in WikiPedia,a mythological creature from the real world Gobi desert, which is more likely to have influenced William Gibson rather more than than the "sandworms described in Dune which are not really nighmares.

Gibson continues to unofficially tout all things Apple, but in "Spook Country" this product placement has a twist:

It will be interesting to ask William Gibson about brand names in his books, and whether he has actually been offered real Hollywood / video game style "product placement" sponsorship or endorsement deals now that he is writing so close to the present day time period ?

iPods are used to ferry deceptive data, and at one point Tito imagines what would happen if you could "crack its virginal white case like a nut, and then draw forth something utterly peculiar, utterly dire, and somehow terrible in its contemporaneity." Even the sleekest products can host demons, crackling with as much potential malice as the anonymous-looking container at the heart of this story.

Hollis learns that Node magazine is a project of Hubertus Bigend, the zeitgeist-infiltrating force behind Blue Ant, a Belgian-based advertising enterprise that calls itself the "first viral agency." "He doesn't want you to have heard of him," one of Bigend's minions tells Hollis. He operates on the principle that secrets "are the very root of cool." The irony is that readers of "Pattern Recognition" have already heard of him, and there's something deliciously sinister in the fact that the antihero forms the most obvious link between Gibson's two most recent novels. Spoiler alert: In "Pattern Recognition," Bigend funded Cayce's search for the source of haunting film fragments appearing on the Web; here we learn that Bigend successfully harnessed that sublime technology (whose online scholars represented "the first true freemasonry of the 21st century") to sell shoes.

Googling "Hubertus Bigend" in real life leads you to a discussion board where Gibsonites muse, a bit futilely, on the significance of his somewhat anatomical name.

The real fun will be had with the Wikipedia entry for "Hubertus Bigend", which may , or may not self-referentially and recursively have to quote the fictional Wikipedia entry which William Gibson has written into Spook Country

The Wikipedia "Spook Country" page edit history RSS feed or Atom feed or the equivalents for the Hubertus Bigend page if it ever appears, may be worth subscribing to.

This reviewer wonders whether his odd moniker is an allusion, or at least a fortuitous parallel, to a minor character in another labyrinthine book concerned with art, imitation and money by another William G. -- William Gaddis, in his novel "The Recognitions" (1955). When Bigend explains his philosophy to Hollis by telling her, "Everything is potential," she responds: "Everything is potential [bull]." In Gaddis' book, the same is true as the odious Recktall Brown collaborates with an art critic dealing in expensive forgeries. For all of Gibson's lavish products, he's given his main moneyman a name that evokes the vulgar. Anything that can be sold instantly loses its cachet, a point brought home again when Bigend suggests to Hollis' ex-bandmate Inchmale that they sell a Curfew song for a Chinese car commercial.

Any reader of Gibson understands that to follow the flow of, say, his novel "Neuromancer," with its vigorous, carpet-pulling tempos, you have to read the landscape for clues. The titular character (or cipher) speaks of the "patterns sometimes you imagined you could detect in the dance of the street. Those patterns are real." Does this mean that, with Gaddis in mind, the title of Gibson's "Pattern Recognition" is really a homage to "The Recognitions"? The title -- the concept of that novel -- drives the reader to enter into a state of apophenia, which is defined by Cayce's father, Win, as "the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness in unrelated things," a gift Cayce also has. Should we pay special attention, then, to the fact that a late-arriving adventurer in "Spook Country" is described as resembling William S. Burroughs -- as is Win (who'd gone missing after Sept. 11) in "Pattern Recognition"?

More apophenia: In "Spook Country," we learn that Inchmale has retired to Buenos Aires. This year, New Directions published a 45th-anniversary edition of Jorge Luis Borges' "Labyrinths" with an introduction by Gibson, in which he calls the Buenos Aires native's book a "singular" milestone in his reading life. It's a collection in which books are the seeds for nightmares and vice versa, and every passage is lined with mirrors. (Perhaps the most potent Web prophecy before "Neuromancer" is Borges' 1949 story "The Aleph.")

WIkipedia article on The Aleph

Despite its thriller trappings, "Spook Country" is a puzzle palace of bewitching proportions and stubborn echoes. Hollis' band was the Curfew, which means it's time for you to come inside. •

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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