The science fictional aspects of William Gibson's Spook Country are so slim that those who like to argue about these things could say that it is as much fiction as science fiction. However, that would miss the point of this hugely enjoyable novel, which could comfortably be dropped into any of half a dozen pigeonholes. Heroine Hollis Henry is one of Gibson's most delightful inventions. In the early 1990s she was part of an influential pop band but now, scraping along as a freelance writer, she is asked by a new magazine to write a piece on a locative artist: art seen only at a certain location when using virtual reality goggles. Curious about the art, the magazine and somewhat desperate for money, Hollis takes the gig and is slowly drawn into a strange game of spy and counterspy. This is where Gibson excels. He introduces several different groups of spooks, none of which seem aligned with traditional notions of countries or other interested parties. There is a family of Cuban-Chinese immigrants who live ready to skip out of their lives in a moment. There is a junkie and his violent kidnapper (the nearest the novel comes to having a government connection). And there is the magazine that hired Hollis, which may exist or may just be an idea of Belgian millionaire Hubertus Bigend. Despite the enticing caper aspect of the plot, Gibson is spot-on in serious critiques of U.S. government efforts to reduce civil liberties and the culture of corruption that arises when wars are waged on multiple fronts. Spook Country is a page-turner and an exploration of art and conspicuous consumption, but neither of those elements is truly the point of the book. Above all, it is an entertainment, and in that it succeeds from first to last.

 

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