The work of William Gibson begun as what most readers would call pure science fiction: worlds far into the future that were worlds removed from what they were describing at the time. There were plenty of readers who thought what Gibson was describing could never happen, but look at the world we’re in now – effortless, instantaneous communication available almost anywhere at a very low price. Wireless transfer of what is essentially the sum of human knowledge to tiny devices that can be carried with you anywhere is something that most people take for granted – and, in fact, if people don’t have access to Wi-Fi wherever they’re going, they can get pretty tetchy. Even this is something William Gibson couldn’t predict.
In his latter works, Gibson began to describe the present day, as the world quickly caught up with those he was describing in almost every respect. Spook Country is a look at the present day with some very minor details changed, but nothing at all removed from the world that we live in – a world after the events of 9/11, a world where technology has reached a saturation point that we can’t imagine progressing any further but that continues unabated.
Spook Country concerns itself with Hollis Henry, who is investigating locative art in Los Angeles, Tito, a freelance thief and smuggler, and Milgrim, a translator. He manages to thread together all of these characters’ narratives easily throughout the book in a way that never becomes clumsy and that reveals the interactions between the characters and their worlds beautifully. Gibson reveals his knowledge of various aspects of our modern world quite adeptly – and shows that he really knows how to conduct research for a novel. It’s incredible how much of the world Gibson knows about, especially if you were originally in the mindset that a science fiction writer wouldn’t tend to have much general knowledge or write convincingly about the world that we live in.
The work is filled with detail that unveils the plotline beautifully, advances the story and gives a truly believable feel to how the novel plays out: it manages to touch upon some sci-fi plot points without feeling far removed from reality and the present, and truly creates a tense and thrilling atmosphere at points. As with many of Gibson’s pieces, the plot can be difficult to follow, but ends up giving some resolution.
The subject of memory is something that many books touch upon. None have examined them in the same way that Tom McCarthy has with Remainder, which is an excellent addition to anyone’s bookshelf. The book concerns itself with the quest for authenticity, both in memory and action – the main character has absolutely no memory, and doesn’t know whether the actions he is taking are authentic, real or genuine or not. This becomes all-consuming, and the vast majority of the book is spent trying to recreate the one genuine memory the main character thinks he has. It’s much more than an unreliable narrator – we’re examining someone’s whole life through their lens after an accident that they can’t even describe and that we assumed must have happened in order to put the narrator on the current course of action they’re on.
Describing this book makes it much more complicated than it actually is. With this kind of subject matter, it could be very difficult to read – but the writing style isn’t anywhere near as dry or analytical as one would expect. There are a few wry moments and there is a surprising amount of humour in the book, despite the overall tone and subject matter. As the book progresses, the general atmosphere becomes more violent and intense – but in an interesting way, that is both detached and involved. It never becomes an exercise in transgression or ‘testing’ the reader to see how much they can take, unlike many other writers – there is an element of intensity in the book but it remains a constant undercurrent, which is much more unsettling than outright shock-writing.
The slow burn of this book is something to behold. It’s truly interesting to see the narrative develop, and the main character’s voice is distant without being aseptic and difficult to read: there are plenty of writers who would take the route of making the main character’s voice nearly unbearably matter-of-fact, but McCarthy doesn’t do this here. This choice elevates this book far further than what it could have been, I believe.
If you have any interest in ideas about memory, storytelling, repetition or any similar subjects, I highly recommend Remainder. McCarthy has created a very intriguing and re-readable work here that really lends itself to analysis and interpretation, and is sure to be something you’re mulling over for plenty of time to come.
If you’re at all interested in cyberpunk, futurism or science fiction in general, you should really read this book. Neuromancer has influenced a huge number of films, books, video games and many other works – as you read this book, you’ll find a wide range of tropes and influences jumping out at you. It’s truly easy to read this book and be amazed at how influential and seminal it is, but nothing you’ll find here feels rehashed or overly familiar, which is a testament to how original and well-written it is. Despite being William Gibson’s first book, the level of urgency and proficiency at which he writes in this novel is something to behold.
There’s so much here you’re not told, so many dots to connect on your own – but nothing that feels overly obtuse or difficult to understand. It’s all very much beautifully written and gives you just enough information to feel compelled to keep going, and there’s plenty to get hooked into here – the narrative pushes you forward while providing you with enough compelling plot to keep going.
Essentially, this novel takes place in the world of Case – a hacker who lives a few years in the future, in a world that’s just barely fleshed out but provides so much feeling and depth that there is really no need to have a great deal of exposition. William Gibson is a true master of delivering backstory and plot development as a natural and coherent part of the narrative with barely any exposition – and when a character does explain part of the story, it always feels very natural and not like the writer is simply delivering important plot points directly to you.
As the characters move throughout the world Gibson creates, you get a truly different sense of what each location consists of. There are a wide cast of characters, and you’re sure to get attached to some of them – Molly and Case are the two protagonists, and they have a great deal of depth. Everyone supporting them is great too, and it’s really remarkable how similar to real-world locations Gibson has made his futuristic locales. The places that are based upon real locations (Istanbul, Orly etc.) really seem as though Gibson has visited these places and is willing to incorporate his knowledge into his descriptions.