Spook Country (Blue Ant #2)

Spook Country by William GibsonSpook Country by William Gibson
Published: Putnam Adult (Aug 7, 2007)
Posted: Goodreads (Aug 15, 2016)
[Review of Pattern Recognition]
4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)
 
 

“We have no future… For us, of course, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly … our present is too volatile.”

– Pattern Recognition

“Secrets… are the very root of cool.”

– Hubertus Bigend, Spook Country

Summary

Spook Country is the second novel in William Gibson’s Blue Ant trilogy. While it’s unlike the first novel in many ways, Spook Country is an interesting work of speculative fiction that manages to blend high technology, espionage, mystery, and suspense in an exciting read.

Like Pattern Recognition, Spook Country focuses finding a meaning to life in a post-9/11 world. It highlights a disconnect between people and their desire to see meaning in things that may or may not be connected. It posits that 9/11 was a key nodal point in world history, one which forever changes the scope of things to come.

Pattern Recognition’s strong female protagonist, Cayce Pollard, exemplified the psychological disconnect between object and meaning flawlessly. Her backstory and life throughout the story gave credit to the idea that meaning could be crafted to equate to anything. Cayce was forced to deal with her past in order to progress and adapt with what happens in the novel.

Spook Country follows a similar trajectory but extrapolates upon it further. The lead character is a musician-turned journalist named Hollis Henry. While she’s forced to discover her place in the world, the story is more focused on crafting a compelling series. It expands upon the same themes as the first but doesn’t provide the same level of character development for any sole character.

The driving force behind Spook Country isn’t just Hollis Henry. She isn’t a stand-in for Cayce Pollard. Instead, the narrative’s perspective and focus is split between multiple primary characters. Does it work with Blue Ant’s “big picture” themes? It does!

The writing style is really outstanding. For the most part it’s edgy (as in cutting edge), funny, smart, witty, and thought provoking. All of the metaphors, social issues, and psychological tidbits are in full force. The lingo is rapid-fire, true to life, unapologetic, and vague at times.

For a silly comparison, Spook Country is like Pattern Recognition infused with Virtual Light and set to the tune of Neal Stephenson’s Reamde (and yet only a little more than a quarter of its size!). While it isn’t as powerful as a standalone novel like Pattern Recognition, it makes up for it in being just plain great and well written.

The Story

Hollis is contracted as a journalist for the new and mysterious, Node, a cutting edge, technology-based publication. Little does Hollis know, Node is owned and micromanaged by the famous Belgian ad mogul, Hubertus Bigend and his Blue Ant company.

This time locative art catches his eye and looks ripe for exploitation. His interests are on an emerging trend called locative art: art laid on top the real world, visible with VR goggles, and implemented with hacked GPS coordinates (think augmented reality, like Pokemon Go or Ingress).

At the same time, on the other end of the U.S., Tito, a Cuban-Chinese immigrant, is thrust into a spy plot as old as his grandfather. The main story also features the third main character (and the weakest), an intelligent drug addict named Milgrim, whose addiction leaves him locked in a deadly situation.

All of which, obviously, intersects. The sum of its parts isn’t terribly great conclusion-wise but those parts are outstanding in presentation. The journey is a lot better than the destination in Spook Country, but hopefully the third book – Zero History ¬– will make that storyline even better.

While there are many great secondary characters, for me Tito stole the show! Tito is, simply put, one of the more interesting characters I’ve read in a long time.

The Themes and Concepts In-depth

While the spy story itself would only rate 4/5, there’s a lot more to Spook Country than the main plot. Since reading Gibson’s novels are often about the larger issues, I’ll sample some small portions of the novel illustrating them.

“Tito’s mother’s fear, after the towers had fallen, had been a deep and constant resonance, untouchable, gradually eroding the foundations of who she had been.”

– Spook Country

“We have no future… For us, of course, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly … our present is too volatile.”

– Pattern Recognition

In my review of Pattern Recognition, I describe the psychological and social issues behind that novel, arguing that it’s one of the novel’s greatest strengths. Spook Country continues this tradition by creating a world that’s hyper-multicultural, one with no boundaries, in which one’s subjective perception is everything.

These elements are explored through the various characters’ backstories and thoughts. We also see them through the clever use of symbolism and the author’s word choice.

On a micro-level, Tito creating synthesized music on a keyboard, a blend, much like he is a blend of many religious ideas and cultures, never fixed to one location, always moving, erasing his past as just easily as he discards his belongings during the story. Or, on a larger scale, entire areas are described as being melting pots of cultures. An older Chinese man owning continental breakfast diner in Canada. An alcove in a Church dedicated to a beloved saint in Santeria. Things that don’t seem interconnected are, they are essentially about the thinning of boundaries.

One of the Orisha, Eleggua, a saint in Santeria, is one of the best examples of Gibson making use of symbolism and metaphor for representing a door opening for society post 9/11. The Orisha is one of many called upon by Tito and his grandmother. He is the patron saint of doorways and crossroads. This is exactly how Gibson used the Vodun loa and Papa Legba in his Sprawl Trilogy, in Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. In Spook Country, he applies that Sprawl event horizon to our contemporary life.

The erosion of boundaries and the fusing together of cultures is central to the Blue Ant Trilogy.

Gone are Cayce’s seeing patterns and meanings in meaningless things, her sense of loneliness and isolation, but instead Spook Country re-introduces another major concept. The idea that 9/11 was a key nodal point in which we let fear control us, disassemble values of old, and form new meanings based on what we see and hear around us. Pattern Recognition highlighted media’s exploitation of this weakness, whereas Spook Country transposes that vision to surveillance, state actors, and geopolitics.

Gibson is careful not to judge the society he’s defined, instead he has his characters adapt to the world around them. He leaves it up to us to become the new Cayce Pollards of Pattern Recognition, leaves it up to us to decide how we’re going to live in the world we’re in.

Conclusion

While it isn’t as ground breaking as it once was from a speculative fiction point of view (possibly due to the prevalence of GPS technologies and augmented reality running off smartphones), Spook Country offers a good story with unbeatable storytelling. I highly recommend this fans of the first novel. (Edge 4.5/5; Goodreads 5/5)

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