Spook Country by William Gibson

Spook Country

The “cool and scary” (San Francisco ChronicleNew York Times bestseller from the author of Pattern Recognition and Neuromancer.

spook (spo͞ok) n.: A specter; a ghost. Slang for “intelligence agent.”

country (ˈkən-trē) n.: In the mind or in reality. The World. The United States of America, New Improved Edition. What lies before you. What lies behind.

spook country (spo͞ok ˈkən-trē) n.: The place where we all have landed, few by choice. The place we are learning to live.

Tito is in his early twenties. Born in Cuba, he speaks fluent Russian, lives in one room in a NoLita warehouse, and does delicate jobs involving information transfer.

Hollis Henry is an investigative journalist, on assignment from a magazine called Node. Node doesn’t exist yet, which is fine; she’s used to that. But it seems to be actively blocking the kind of buzz that magazines normally cultivate before they start up. Really actively blocking it. It’s odd, even a little scary, if Hollis lets herself think about it much. Which she doesn’t; she can’t afford to.

Milgrim is a junkie. A high-end junkie, hooked on prescription antianxiety drugs. Milgrim figures he wouldn’t survive twenty-four hours if Brown, the mystery man who saved him from a misunderstanding with his dealer, ever stopped supplying those little bubble packs. What exactly Brown is up to Milgrim can’t say, but it seems to be military in nature. At least, Milgrim’s very nuanced Russian would seem to be a big part of it, as would breaking into locked rooms.

Bobby Chombo is a “producer,” and an enigma. In his day job, Bobby is a troubleshooter for manufacturers of military navigation equipment. He refuses to sleep in the same place twice. He meets no one. Hollis Henry has been told to find him.

Spook Country is the perfect follow-up to Pattern Recognition, which was called by The Washington Post (among many glowing reviews), “One of the first authentic and vital novels of the twenty-first century.”

“A puzzle palace of bewitching proportions and stubborn echoes.”—Los Angeles Times

“Arguably the first example of the post-post-9/11 novel, whose characters are tired of being pushed around by forces larger than they are—bureaucracy, history and, always, technology—and are at long last ready to start pushing back.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Like Pynchon and DeLillo, Gibson excels at pinpointing the hidden forces that shape our world.”—Details

“[A] dazed, mournful quality…[An] evocation of post-9/11 displacement, the sense of a world in which nothing seems fixed or reassuring…one of our vital novelists.”—Newsday

“Although wearing the trappings of a thriller, Spook Country is essentially a comedy, albeit a dry, dark, and disturbing one.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“A fitful, fast-forward spy tale…It’s to Gibson’s credit that he weaves his strands of disparate narrators, protagonists and foils, and his panoply of far-forward technology, into a vivid, suspenseful and ultimately coherent tale.”—USA Today

“Part thriller, part spy novel, part speculative fiction, Gibson’s provocative work is like nothing you have ever read before.”—Library Journal

“Set in the same high-tech present day as Pattern Recognition, Gibson’s fine ninth novel offers startling insights into our paranoid and often fragmented postmodern world….Compelling characters and crisp action sequences, plus the author’s trademark metaphoric language, help make this one of Gibson’s best.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Gibson excels as usual in creating an off-kilter atmosphere of vague menace.”—Kirkus Reviews

“A devastatingly precise reflection of the American zeitgeist.”—The Washington Post Book World

Discussion Guide

  1. What effect does Blue Ant have on art and technology? Where should corporations draw the line when it comes to high art and consumer art?  How can big business and the military play a role in nurturing art rather than bastardizing it for financial gain?
  2. “Secrets are the very root of cool.” The major players in this series exist solely to expose or protect undisclosed information. Compare Hobbs Baranov’s “old-boy networks,” Hubertus Bigend’s “viral agency,” and the old man’s covert operatives. How do these groups measure up to Cayce Pollard’s Gabriel Hounds company, Stella Volkov’s Film Footage family, and Dorotea Benedetti’s international associates? Which of these characters have access to the most heavily guarded intel? While Bigend, “wishes [his agency] could operate as a black hole, an absence,” are any of these groups actually untouchable? Why or why not?
  3. Milgram has an addiction to painkillers. Cayce Pollard has an unusual aversion to logos. Bobby Chombo cannot sleep in the same space twice. Where do think these allergies, addictions and obsessive behaviors come from? What do these conditions say about each individual? What other unusual personality disorders appear throughout these stories? How do these traits define these characters?
  4. Keiko, the flying penguin and Mama Anarchia are all modern tools of deception. Discuss the ways in which technology can be utilized to create false identities. How do these artificial characters successfully distract, mislead and deceive in Gibson’s world?
  5. “They broke laws, but they weren’t crooks.” Examine how certain characters are driven by a sense of patriotism. Does this devotion to their own country blind them from making decisions on a multinational level? Explain. Give examples of when patriotism usurps a character’s perception of morality?
  6. Gibson’s characters derive power from knowledge, technology and money. Which character stands to lose the most power if one of these elements were taken away? How would such an event change that individual’s drive for success?
  7. Describe the relationship between Milgram and Brown? How do their roles as captor and hostage evolve over time? What incidents stand out as pivotal in the shift of power between these two men? How would the situation have differed if Milgram weren’t an addict?
  8. Several characters are introduced or exposed gradually as double agents. Analyze these two-faced individuals and identify the motivation for their actions. Do they all shift from ally to adversary in each story? If so, do any of them ever see the error of their ways and redeem themselves?
  9. How are government agencies portrayed in these stories? Which characters are directly influenced by the private sector? How have these agencies changed through the eyes of these characters in a post cold war and post 9/11 world?
  10. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a sister’s devotion or a mother and daughter’s bond, family plays an important role in all three of these stories. Evaluate the positive and negative influences familial relationships have on Cayce, Stella, Fiona and others.
  11. A general feeling of mistrust is interwoven into almost every character’s life. In what ways do Cayce, Hollis and others exhibit this sentiment? Are they justified in their thinking? Why? Which character(s) allows their suspicions to sway their actions? Which character(s) prevents paranoia from influencing their decisions?
  12. Evaluate the communities formed by culture, common interest or political affiliation in these stories. Do the locations of their existence, either in the real world or exclusively online, affect the level of allegiance among its members? Which characters feel torn between multiple communities and why?
  13. How do mobile phone technology, social media and wifi impact the level of security in the lives of Gibson’s characters? Which character would be the easiest to monitor regardless of location? Which character is immune to all three forms of “tracking?”
  14. “A nation consists of laws. A nation does not consist of its situation at a given time. If an individual’s morals are situational, that individual is without morals. If a nation’s laws are situational, that nation has no laws and soon isn’t a nation.” Discuss how this Rize-induced statement by Milgram would resonate with other characters in this series. What does this quote say about Milgram and how he views the world? How do you think this idea affected Brown?
  15. We’re introduced to several villains or opposing forces throughout this series. Which character or group of characters do you feel are the most ruthless in accomplishing their goal and why?
  16. Compare and contrast the following couples: Cayce Pollard & Peter “Parkaboy” Gilbert, Hollis Henry & Garreth Wilson, and Milgram and Fiona. What qualities make each pair successful in love and business? What flaws and incompatible traits hinder each partnership? Which couple do you feel is best matched? Identify other notable duos, romantic or platonic, that appear in this series.