Spooky archaeology – Spook Country by William Gibson

I’ve just finished William Gibson’s Spook Country and find myself in two minds about it.

To a degree I was a little disappointed with it, though I loved Pattern Recognition and its clean incisions into the world of the logo and the use of the Internet, I didn’t feel that this book really took the ball and ran. It toyed with the idea of the Street finding its own uses for technology, such as using the iPod to transfer data not music, and the extreme sport of BASE jumping. Unlike Pattern Recognition, it never fully got inside the minds of hackers.
They are interesting, pushing them into the arenas of art and the interface of arts and technology.  Its an area that sf tends to ignore at the peril of missing out on a fantastic narrative.

The future is history and the present is what needs slicing and dicing though and this appears to be Gibson’s big project at the moment. Instead of the Japanese futures and decaying America, we finds ourselves in the archaeology of post-Soviet Russia. We are treated to the scientific skeletons and are forced to try and find a patter in the noise. Apophenia is all we are likely to get- the noise, the static. Occasionaly we feel we discern ET sending out a signal but it is our minds playing tricks. Simply, we cannot tell if we are in this century or the last. The past is not a foreign country but merely changed seven years ago. Perhaps the millennium put to bed our ideas of the future which raged from the 1950s to the 1980s. Gibson (and Neal Stephenson) makes us realise that we do not, and pehaps cannot, fully understand or control the world around us though we try.

Once again this book reminds us that genre is, to some extent, a language and in the early chapters he uses nouns like verbs when one of the characters clamshells their phone. Its true if you have a fliptop phone.

In a conversation with Clute a while ago, we talked about literature not dealing with the new world in the way that genre does. It does not have the acuity or the language to deal with the new and unfamiliar yet. The authors who are dealing with this best are either genre writers or have a deep understanding and respect for it and Spook Country amply shows this. He continues drawing ou the secret uses and histories of the world that is perhaps in decay.
Reading the current output of the cyberpunks and post-cyberpunks and I wonder if it is these people who are trying to grapple with the world. Perhaps they are making a mess of it but its a start.

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