The Money Shot: William Gibson's Spook Country  

Posted by Big Gav in , , ,

Time for one of my occasional off topic book reviews - this one of William Gibson's most recent effort - Spook Country.

If you are thinking about reading the book, there are spoilers in this post - and major spoilers in the links, so be warned.

Spook Country is set in the same world (not dissimilar to today's world) as Gibson's previous book Pattern Recognition (which I once described as an ode to apophenia) though the only connection is via the character of Hubertus Bigend, an enigmatic Belgian PR mogul.

The action has shifted from Europe to North America, with the usual set of three, slowly converging, plotlines in operation, one tracking an ex-Indie band member come journalist working loosely for Bigend, via a soon to exist magazine called Node (which spawned a number of online commentaries), the second tracing a Chinese-Cuban refugee with strong belief in voodoo and a family background in espionage and the third tracing a tweaker named Milgrim who has fallen into the clutches of a rogue member of the security-industrial complex.

The book doesn't have the intensity of Gibson's early works like Neuromancer and Burning Chrome, though some of the characters clearly fit the cyberpunk mold, but I found it an enjoyable enough read anyway.

Alejandro looked over his knees. "Carlito said there is a war in America."
"A war?"
"A civil war."
"There is no war, Alejandro, in America."
"When grandfather helped found the DGI, in Havana, were the Americans at war with the Russians?"
"That was the 'cold war.' "
Alejandro nodded, his hands coming up to grip his knees. "A cold civil war."
Tito heard a sharp click from the direction of Ochun's vase, but thought instead of Eleggua, He Who Opens And Closes The Roads. He looked back at Alejandro.
"You don't follow politics, Tito." - Spook Country

As one critic put it "Since 9/11, Mr. Gibson has abandoned futuristic sci-fi dystopias to frolic in the dystopia of the present". Two dystopian issues of the present day that does surface from time to time in the book are the culture war - particularly the slow burning one going on within various arms of the US government - and the neoconservative project and their war in Iraq.

One incident that comes to mind that demonstrated the new cold war in action was the appointment of Porter Goss to head the CIA in the wake of the 2004 election, apparently to clear out the remaining liberals. In the event, it turned out the liberal jellyfish still had some sting left in its tentacles, as Mr Goss' abrupt departure not long after he arrived showed (as well as providing a strange echo of Watergate).
"A nation," he heard himself say, "consits of its laws. A nation does not consist of its situation at a given time. If an individual's moral are situational, that individual is without morals. If a nation's law are situational, that nation has no laws, and soon isn't a nation." ...

"What did you say?"
"Are you really so scared of terrorists that you'll dismantle the structures that made America what it is?" ...

The f*ck--"
"If you are, you let the terrorist win. Because that is exactly, specifically, his goal, his only goal: to frighten you into surrendering the rule of law. That's why they call him 'terrorist'. He uses terrifying threats to induce you to degrade your own society."
Brown opened his mouth. Closed it. - Spook Country

Now you might be wondering what the post title is about - and if you've read the book you might find these 2 links interesting - but if you haven't then reading them will probably completely spoil the surprise...
“Why’s he doing this, whatever it is?”

“He used to be in national security, American government. Career man. Retired a few years before 9/11. I think he went a bit feral, frankly, after the attacks. Frothing, really. Not a good idea to get him on the topic. He’d been hugely well connected, it seemed. Friends everywhere. And the lot of them pissed as well, at least to hear him tell it. Old spooks. Most retired, some not quite, some soon forced out because they wouldn’t toe a party line.”

“There’s more than one of him, you mean?”

“Not really, no. I find it easiest to think of him as slightly off, really. I imagine they do too, though it doesn’t stop them giving him help, and funding. Amazing what you can do with a little money, when you’re given a free hand. He’s as sharp as anyone I’ve met, sharper, but he has obsessions, topics he’s queer about. One of them, a big one, is people profiting from the war in Iraq. He gets onto things, things he learns certain people have done. Through his various connections, he hears things, puts bits together.”

“What for?”

“So that he can f*ck with them, frankly. F*ck them up. Over. Sideways, if he can manage it. Loves it. Lives for it.” - Spook Country


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