William Gibson

"Spook Country"

(Reviewed by Ann Wilkes NOV 9, 2007)

What does a former rock-and-roll artist-turned-journalist have to do with spies and international espionage? Good question. Hollis Henry gets an offer to do a story for a magazine no one has ever heard of called Node. She goes to LA on assignment to meet with a "locative" artist. She's shown all kinds of sculptures and murals that…well…aren't quite there. They can only be seen with a high tech helmet.

"Hollis," said Alberto, "check it." He was holding what she took to be a VR visor of Bobby's…. "Wireless." She walked over to him, took it from him, and put it on.

"Meet Archie," said Alberto.

Ten feet above the orange tape outline, the glossy, grayish-white form of a giant squid appeared, about ninety feet in total length, its tentacles undulating gracefully. "Architeuthis," Bobby said. Its one visible eye was the size of an SUV tire. "Skins," Bobby said.

The squid's every surface flooded with light, subcutaneous pixels sliding past in distorted video imagery, stylized kanji, wide eyes of anime characters.

The complex technology that makes these works of art possible is managed by a freelancer named Bobby Chombo--at least until he goes missing. Node's owner, Hubertus Bigend, asks Hollis to meet Bobby Chombo and follow her nose. He gives her a seemingly unlimited expense account to do it. Bigend uses his extensive wealth and resources to "know things." In spite of Hollis's distaste for Bigend's ability to get what he wants and the fact that she can't find a single reference to Node on the 'net, her piqued curiosity compels her to follow the rabbit down the hole.

It's a hole that leads to international espionage and powerful people with dangerous secrets. Gibson adds the point of view of the two other teams in this high stakes game. Milgrim, is a man who's been abducted for his translation skills by a spy. Tito is a Cuban-Chinese born criminal facilitator who works for the people interested in a mysterious cargo container that Bobby's tracking.

The drug-addicted abductee, Milgrim, tries to figure things out through his narcotic haze. He goes through turmoil at every possible moment of escape. His addiction prevents him from running because his abductor supplies him with his drug of choice. The Tito's skills and beliefs add another layer that enrich the story. He uses Systema the way he learned it in Cuba from his Uncles, who learned it from a Vietnamese soldier. And he learned the way of Guerreros: Eleggua, Ogin, Oshosi and Osun from his Aunt Juana.

With Oshosi at his shoulder, Tito ran toward Union Square East and Sixteenth Street. The orisha wanted him out of the park and its calculable geometries of pursuit…

The man with the bloody mouth caught his left shoulder and he careened into a table, food and glassware flying, a woman screaming. In the instant of contact, Eleggua, mounting Tito with nauseating speed, had reached back with Tito's right hand, slipped something from the man's belt, and now simultaneously drew and fired the Bulgarian's pneumatic gun with his left, from under Tito's right armpit.

This is a high-tech spy novel. It will definitely hold your interest. But an edge-of-your-seat thriller it is not. Although, it does have its moments. What is lacking is a more emotional investment from the characters. Perhaps because they are all loners, their emotions do not have enough of an outlet. However, like Pattern Recognition, it is a fun look at the world today through the eyes of the original cybperpunk writer. As he says in interviews, that writing about the world today, "in the real sense of science fiction," is more challenging "than continuing to make things up."

  • Amazon readers rating: from 199 reviews


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"Pattern Recognition"

(Reviewed by Bill Robinson MAR 16, 2003)

"Sun-glasses with a built-in computer screen on the lenses, wrist bans that can make phone calls and pens consumers can use to write e-mails and send messages." Sound sci-fi? It's not. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Motorola plans soon to preview these so called "wearable digital assistants." The company predicts that these devices will be on the market by 2005.

Read excerptThis kind of technology would be quite at home in William Gibson's new novel, Pattern Recognition. Gibson is known for his futuristic science fiction. He is cited as the inventor of the term "cyberspace." However, this novel is set in the present. It's a here and now where a rapidly sprawling Internet interconnects as never before, where marketing and mass media are creating a global consciousness.

Gibson is an author known for his "atmospherics." This time around, he does not disappoint. He goes international, taking Cayce Pollard, his young heroine, to a ragged, worn around the edges London, to Tokyo where nature has been usurped by a "maniacally animated forest of signs." He is at his most descriptive when the action moves to Moscow with its "Cyclopean Stalin-era buildings."

The novel is a fast-moving movie, a series of information-rich "visuals." The feeling that Gibson elicits from his urban "sets" is further enhanced by keenly observant descriptions of interiors. Gibson could make a good interior designer, always commenting on the strange color and construction of walls and the peculiar nature of window treatments. When first in any room, he usually provides an annotated inventory of any furniture.

These interiors and exteriors are scaffolding for a plot, which, though slow in parts, does build to a surprising and emotional climax. It is the story of disparate members of Fetish:Footgage:Forum, a Web chat group. F:F:F members share an obsession with short, highly evocative movie clips. The "footage," as it is known reverently, is being distributed sporadically in small segments via the Internet. Beliefs concerning the meaning of the footage and, equally important, the mystery of who might be "the maker" take on the flavor of religious belief.

Cayce, a young woman in her twenties has, since an early child, suffered from a severe case of what can only be called brand logo phobia. Encountering logos for Tommy Hilfiger, Benetton, Ralph Lauren, Laura Ashley - particular fashion-related brands - make her violently ill.

Cayce also has the unique ability to recognize a new brand logo that "works" and one that does not. This brings her to marketing firms and advertising agencies where her skills are used to evaluate the effectiveness of brand symbols. Not surprisingly, she is well paid and kept busy.

She is slight in build, and also slight, too, in intelligence. She might be described as one-dimensional. But, this is true of most of Gibson's characters. Cayce and others in the novel have a comic-book nature. More attention is paid to what they wear than to what they think. Gibson's dialogue, too, is simple, its primary role being to advance the plot.

However, the characters are carefully and entertainingly drawn. This is Gibson's skill. His work is fiction, by definition not real. And, while Cayce and her friends and enemies are fictitious, they are fascinating. They are unique types, and Gibson makes us enjoy knowing what kind of shoes they wear.

Here is the description of Cayce's primary uniform: "A small boy's black Fruit of the Loom T-shirt, thoroughly shrunken, a thin gray V-necked pullover purchased by the half dozen from a supplier to New England prep schools, and a new and oversized pair of black 501's, every trademark carefully removed. Even the buttons on these have been ground flat, featureless, by a puzzled Korean locksmith in the Village…"

A warning: the book begins in a way that can be confusing. Gibson throws the reader right into the swing of things and into this ultra-real fictional present often presenting information with little explanation. He moves quickly, often making it difficult to follow. And the scattershot prose is often confusing. Don't be alarmed. Several chapters into the book, the narrative calms downs, and it becomes more straightforward. Most readers will be relieved. Some may regret the lapse back into more traditional storytelling.

Little else is traditional about Pattern Recognition. The novel visits strange places, peopled by bizarre individuals. It follows young Cayce on her sometimes-confusing journey as she searches for the elusive secret of the mysterious "footage." And, as Gibson's "atmospheres," become more fantastic, they become surprisingly familiar, set in a present that is weird and fantastic, but not so dissimilar from our own.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 308 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Pattern Recognition at MostlyFiction.com

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(Reviewed by Judi Clark MAR 13, 1999)

It is due to this novel, Neuromancer, that Gibson is credited for coining the term "cyberspace" and with having envisioned both the Internet and virtual reality before either existed.  Even now I am intrigued by the possibilities, the story line, the poetry of the language, the darkness (I thought the future was supposed to be bright..) and by this not so foreign version of the future.  Even just flipping through the book to write this, I am amazed at how true the future is still becoming as evidenced in lines such as this: "In the age of affordable beauty..." 

The first time I read this book was in 1993 (one year before the Internet was coined the "information super highway") because it was strongly recommended to me.   From the start I found the book intriguing, but then I was fairly comfortable with the notion of "jacking" into networks.  After all I'd been in the business since the 80's, why couldn't this be done?  So at first I missed the novelty of this book and the reason it received the Hugo, Nebula and Philip K. Dick Awards.  But then it dawned on me - this was written ten years earlier. While I was busy keeping an IBM SNA network up within an Insurance company, Gibson was having "cowboys" remotely "jacking in' and stealing data. 

Neuromancer opened my eyes to a whole new genre of fiction, specifically cyberpunk, and one that is not yet satiated. I read the rest of the Sprawl trilogy right away and then re-read Neuromancer.  This is still the favorite book of the guy who recommended it to me and as he says, it's good to read it again every few years. This I agree with, especially every time Gibson comes out with a new novel and I find that it doesn't even come close to this debut novel.

Better read Neuromancer soon if you haven't already! Rumor has it, and this started with the "February 2000" issue of Wired Magazine, that a twenty-something Chris Cunnigham is bringing the book to the screen.  Cunnigham worked under Stanley Kubrick as a kid and started writing the story boards from the first time he read the book. Cunningham isn't saying anything but at the time Gibson was real excited about what he'd been doing. 

  • Amazon.com reader rating: from 504 reviews
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(Reviewed by Judi Clark FEB 28, 1998)

This is Gibson's latest and in my opinion, it isn't really as good as his earlier novels. It's about a Rock star who wants to marry a Japanese Idoru, but she isn't real. I say, who cares? But apparently everyone does in the book. The language, techno gadgets and imagery are usual Gibson, but the plot is shallow.  Maybe that's on purpose if what Gibson intends is to comment on the where this world is heading; much of today's media is very shallow. Gibson is still catching trends, though. I just saw pictures of Scandinavian made designer lap tops in an article in Wired magazine.  Not as nice as Chia McKenzie's Sandbender...  but you know that Gibson's still on top of the trends.

  • Amazon.com reader rating: from 144 reviews

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About the Author:

William GibsonWilliam Gibson was born in 1948 in Conway, South Carolina and spent his childhood in a small town in Southwestern, Virginia.  He attended school in Southern Arizona and left the United States for Canada when he was nineteen. 

He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife and their two children. 

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