The Times: "Spook Country" reviewed by Peter Millar

At last, the tardy UK mainstream media are starting to notice the publication of William Gibson's Spook Country

Here is another positive review, this time from The Times by Peter Millar who reviews thrillers for The Times, and is well qualified to comment on the spooky intelligence protocols etc.

"Peter Millar is a British journalist and author, primarily known for his reporting of the fall of the Cold War and fall of the Berlin Wall for The Sunday Times of London."
The Times August 11, 2007

Spook Country
By William Gibson.

If this seems less futuristic than his previous novels, it’s us moving forward, not him moving back

Reviewed by Peter Millar

THE PRESENT IS A FOREIGN country. We do things differently here.

A long time ago, in a parallel universe, I interviewed the psychopathic Ulster Loyalist hitman Billy Wright. I got in touch by writing him a letter – snail mail – to an address where he no longer lived. We met by an anonymous roadhouse and he took me in a car that he didn’t own to a house where he wouldn’t be spending the night. He said that if he stayed still for too long they would track him down and finish him off. He was right. When he was finally put in the Maze prison he was shot three times in the head by nationalist inmates.

Billy Wright (loyalist) (i.e. terrorist and criminal) entry in Wikipedia.

Bobby Chombo, the elusive key figure in William Gibson’s Spook Country, has the same sort of rational phobia, but updated: he refuses to spend two nights in the same square of a world divided up by the GPS (Global Positioning System) grid.

Dictators who fear assassination by their inner circle or other enemies also tend to sleep at a different location every night e.g. Saddam Hussein or his hero Joseph Stalin.

If you don’t know what the GPS grid is, stop here. You have never read a Gibson book and there is no point in even thinking about it. He doesn’t take prisoners, he shoots them. If he isn’t talking the language of today, he’s inventing tomorrow’s.

Take a deep breath and remember that this is the man who coined the phrase “cyberspace” w-a-a-a-y back in 1982, years before the world wide web had been invented or anyone outside an obscure nuclear research laboratory in Switzerland had heard of it.

Technically, the World Wide Web did not crystallise until 1991, when Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his colleagues at Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) nuclear physics research laboratories on the Swiss / French border in Geneva, developed the first web browser and published the first web pages using the hypertext transport protocol (HTTP)

That was in a short story titled Burning Chrome that spawned a full-blooded novel named Neuromancer, which started out almost as science fiction but became a genre on its own – a genre that became a cult, which other people called cyberpunk.

Reading Gibson in the Eighties was the literary equivalent of Ridley Scott’s big screen imaginings – the junk space freighter Nostromo in Alien or acid rain-soaked Los Angeles in Blade Runner – a world where technology and junk had intermingled, full of high-tech, low-life, silicon scavengers.

Gibson imagined an advanced internet on the cusp of sentience and christened it the “matrix” before the Wachowski brothers were out of their teens. The world of Neuromancer – and his next two novels, Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, which share it – is dominated by globalism, big corporations and street-hawkers in New Delhi, or Chiba City, Japan, selling hacked software or reconstituted hardware.

In these novels, collectively the Sprawl trilogy, “virtual reality” is the medium of the moment, and cyberspace is somewhere that you can upload yourself into.

In an afterword to the 2000 edition of Neuromancer, the author Jack Womack speculated that the way Gibson had described the evolution of an internet had influenced the real thing: “What if the act of writing it down, in fact, brought it about?”

So back in the here and now – wherever that is – we find Gibson promoting Spook Country in the online role-playing game Second Life, the closest thing yet to the virtual world inhabited permanently by the brain of Bobby Newmark in Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Of course, nothing has evolved exactly as Gibson didn’t predict – he would insist that he was writing fiction, not futurology; the world has “canted” (to use a Gibson word) in an oblique direction. And Gibson has canted with it, the future tense of his fiction fading into a high-speed cruise along the cutting edge of the curve that the rest of us are struggling to keep up with. In his own words: “The future is here already; it just isn’t evenly distributed.”

Which takes us back to Bobby Chombo avoiding satellite scanners in the warehouse that passes for his bedroom and in demand as an engineer for “locative artists” who specialise in virtual location sculpture. Google it and you will find that “locative art”, still in its infancy, features things such as maps of New York linked to sounds of the city, or performances involving mobile phones.

Another example of a reviewer using Google to check out some details from William Gibson's book. The literary world has been changed forever.

In Spook Country we have the actor River Phoenix, complete with hair dyed dark for his last role, recreated in the spot outside the Viper Room in Hollywood where he died, but visible only if you wear a virtual reality helmet, or carry a laptop.

Bobby’s expertise with computer servers means that he can trace global shipping containers – the sort that interest a man called Brown who may or may not have government connections and who keeps Milgrim, a pharmaceutical pill junkie, in tow because he can read Volapuk.

As you will know, Volapuk is the text-language used by Russians to express Cyrillic script on telephones with only Latin letters.

Very few non-Russian mobile phone users will have heard of this, before reading Spook Country.

There is a difference between Volapuk encoding for overcoming the Cyrillic to ASCII mobile phone and computer keyboard problem, and the older Volapük constructed language, a precursor to Esperanto

It is being used by Tito (named after the Yugoslav dictator?), a Chinese-Cuban refugee with a family that extends from Havana to New York and a mystical belief in the hybrid Catholic-Voodoo gods known as orishas. Complex ethnicity – exact in excruciating detail – is a Gibson trademark.

Regular Gibson readers will welcome back the sinister mega-rich Belgian global PR executive Hubertus Bigend and greet the rock star turned journalist Hollis Henry, left over from a cult band named the Curfew.

Hubertus Bigend Wikipedia article (quoting the fictional Wikipedia entry which William Gibson has written into Spook Country)

In the Bridge trilogy – Idoru, Virtual Light and All Tomorrow’s Parties (a title taken from a Velvet Underground song) – Gibson moved towards today as today moved towards him. Pattern Recognition was set in that today with its heroine’s almost allergic hypersensitivity to brand names.

Spook Country ties in thriller themes that writers who have never toyed with speculative fiction would recognise – Iraq, corruption, shipping piracy – but the codes are hidden on iPods instead of in microdots.

On his website, in the autobiographical section that he calls “source code”, Gibson quotes the veteran American sci-fi writer Gene Wolfe: “Being an only child whose parents are dead is like being the sole survivor of drowned Atlantis. There was a whole civilisation there, a whole continent but it’s gone. And you alone remember.”

Gibson has created his own civilisation to compensate. And over time – depending on the speed of your own universe – the rest of us have come to inhabit it. Welcome home.

SPOOK COUNTRY by William Gibson

Viking, £18.99; 371pp

Buy the book here for the offer price of £17.09 (free p&p)

William Gibson is at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday August 27 at 7pm. Call 0845 373 5888

Another positive review, this time, at last, in a major United Kingdom publication.

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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