It has been over twenty years since I read the Sprawl trilogy by William Gibson. Neuromancer, Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive— these combined with the short stories in Burning Chrome to form the basis of my first opinions of cyberpunk literature. Now, twenty-plus years later I am working for a large corporation building networks and recovering from a brain injury. Granted, the injury did not come from jabbing a plug into my skull to try and communicate with Wintermute.
While browsing at the bookstore last week, I ran across the paperback edition of William Gibson’s latest novel, Spook Country. I have not read any of the novels Gibson published between the Sprawl trilogy and now with the exception of The Difference Engine. It was my disappointment with that book that dissuaded me from trying again. Spook Country intrigued me in the idea that it was no a science-fiction novel, but a thriller set in modern day: a modern day at least hinted at early in Gibson’s career.
In 1990 I interviewed Dan Simmons. Cyberpunk was on its way out as a genre. I didn’t know that, but Simmons did. Nonetheless, Simmons was a gentleman and indulged a naive sophomore a few questions about the particular genre. While we were talking, Simmons related a story about William Gibson that has stuck with me. Simmons asked Gibson over dinner about his foremost experience of futureshock. Gibson answered, “Well two weeks ago I was in Tokyo and I got lost. I got off the train, the metro, in the wrong part of Tokyo, which was about thirty miles from the right part of Tokyo. And here I am wandering at 3 a.m. down some quiet street, bathed in neon and rain. And I come across a street corner dispenser of liter bottles of scotch. And the thing is humming and talking to itself in Japanese.”
And that is what I appreciate about Gibson. His critics are ruthless as they rant about his inability to present a compelling psychology, or to answer any big questions about the world in which we live. I think that misses the point. But what I like is that almost myopic view that defines the trend of intense specialization and its inevitable destination: vast swaths of blank ignorance. When he’s on, there’s nothing quite like that tiny, intensely personal mirror he can hold up.
I’m hoping Spook Country follows that trend.