Spook Country

I have an essay out next week in The L Magazine about William Gibson’s latest novel, Spook Country. This post will eventually become an excuse to link to it.

The L Magazine

Truth be told, I was a little disappointed by Gibson’s latest. I was reminded of Tibor Fischer’s review of Martin Amis’ Yellow Dog, “it’s like your favourite uncle being caught in a school playground, masturbating.”

I liked Yellow Dog, I’ve been on a serious Martin Amis kick since moving up to New Haven and I think sentence-wise it’s better than Money or London Fields. I’d dig out some quotes, but my Yellow Dog is under bedbug quarantine, wrapped tight in permethrin-laced plastic right now.

Partly I don’t like Spook Country because Gibson’s veering off from science fiction, which I think is a cop-out. But more to the point, I think the whole book is a conscious attempt to replace the Neuromancer metaphor for cyberspace. He’s trying to say that cyberspace is becoming just another layer of consciousness, which would be fine but it’s rammed down your throat–all these layers of things other than technology floating about, influencing characters… oh, it’s all so hacky.

The worst is when the omniscent narrator voice goes into the head of a young Cuban character. The writing gets self-consciously ethnic-sounding, like you can tell Gibson has been reading all this breathy, badly translated Latin fiction and has decided that’s the way Cubans think. Worst of all, Gibson has pared down his prose and, let’s just say he’s no Martin Amis once he loses the density.

Spook Country is still worth a read, though, I mean he’s still a good writer. But the density is what made his writing, without it it’s flaccid, sloopy (not sloppy, sloopy) stuff. Plus he’s wrong about his Internet metaphor. Information operates like grammar does, it’s about linkages between things and not about things themselves. It’s still a concept metaphor, what the Internet is and will become reflects that. That’s what pattern recognition is, I think, it’s seeing the ‘shape’ of a network of intermingled exchanges.