This is the first William Gibson book I’ve read, and after reading this I’ve definitely got to get hold of a copy of Necromancer (his first). William Gibson has something of a reputation as a “cult” author, whatever that means. I like a lot of writers who are classified as cult, Haruki Murakami, Bret Ellis Easton to name but two, and those writers could hardly be more different from each other, so I didn’t know quite what to expect from Gibson.
I expected technology to play a major part in the story, and it does, Bobby Chombo, the reclusive techy who creates virtual reality installations for artists known as locative art, is a central character. Chombo is working on something other than art at the moment though, he’s tracking a container which is on a ship somewhere, bound for a port somewhere. He’s a difficult man to track down, as he never sleeps in the same GPS grid reference twice. Hollis Henry is working for a magazine no one has heard of, and has been assigned to write an article about Chombo, but she suspects there’s more to it than that. Tito, a young Cuban guy, who seems to be “off the grid” and does a neat line in free running is passing iPods to an old man, while Brown, who is the nearest this book gets to a clear “baddy” is dragging Milgram round with him on the basis that he supplies his drugs for him.
The key to the story is the container, and it doesn’t really become clear why until towards the end, but all the way through you know these inter-woven tales are eventually going to land in the same square mile, and indeed they do. The ending is not “Dan Brown” dramatic, and I don’t think for a moment that it is meant to be, this book is about the situation and how the characters’ lives are buffeted by the realities of the outside world.
Superficially this is an international spy thriller, but it is so much more original and well written than that statement suggests. The range of characters is limited, and each one is properly developed yet Gibson is careful not to be too clear about the motivation of any of them, so we are left guessing as to who is on which side, or even if there are any sides. That is of course one of the main comments this book is making on the modern world, there are no sides, there are no villains, there are no more heroes, there are people caught up in events which they can only try to influence. This is really a tale looking at the world we live in, and the undercurrents which exist unseen below the headlines.
If you like your fiction to make you think a bit, and don’t need neat solutions, I’d recommend this, I’ll certainly be checking out the rest of Gibson’s work. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to look for some locative art.