Among other activities, one of the great things about my recent vacation was the opportunity to sit down on a summer afternoon and catch up on one of the many e-books that I had bought but never finished. Spook Country was one of those novels. I had bought it about a year and made a valiant attempt to read it, but I lost interest in its constantly changing perspectives and gave up.
Have finally read it a year later, which necessitated re-reading the earlier chapters, I am finally ready to render a verdict:
William Gibson is an excellent writer. His work preceded and predicted many of the elements of the information age. He has this unique ability to look into the future and see where we as a species are going. Spook Country is no different. We are introduced to concepts such as augmented reality, which is only now coming to effect in the real world, five years after the publication of Gibson’s novel.
That said, the look into the now present is not enough to save the story from its own lack of momentum. For the most part, the story is a mystery that when revealed is a little anti-climatic. There’s a lot of build-up but not a strong climax, rather a petering out.
Gibson uses a unique tactic of switching the narrative voice between several characters but it fails here because none of the characters are really that interesting. The most interesting character is Tito due to his religious beliefs that combine spirituality and physicality in a way that I’ve never seen before. But the perspective switching doesn’t really build momentum in the story as you don’t really get too interested in what happens to these people. For a better example of how to use multiple perspectives, I would recommend A Game of Thrones. I’m only 25% through the novel, but I can’t wait to see what happens to at least five or six of its characters. But I’ll save that for another review.
Even though this is a negative review, I can’t help but point an amazing sequence in the middle of book. Tito is tasked to meet with one of his associates while expecting to be chased down by the authorities. His goal is to make sure that the authorities capture a usb stick without capturing him. Over a sequence of several chapters, we watch Tito and one of his adversaries prepare for this confrontation. It is nothing short of exhilarating. The preparations build a real sense of excitement and bring momentum to the story. When the confrontation carries itself out, you know what the plan so it’s easy to get caught up in the chase. The whole sequence works really well and is a fine example of how to build up to an action set piece.
Even though that sequence was amazing, Gibson is not able to maintain the momentum. The story slows down until we are left with a very quiet anti-climax and a rather un-satisfying conclusion to each of the character’s individual story arcs.
In short, I wouldn’t recommend it. Instead you should read Neuromancer. It’s a little difficult to read and understand but you’ll be surprised by the words that Gibson creates (in the early 80’s) that we still use today.