In a post-9/11 United States, things are not always what they appear to be.
Electronic devices like iPods are conduits for the flow of top-secret
information along unofficial channels. Wireless modems are a means to
produce the most amazing virtual reality experiences in public settings. And
cargo containers no longer hold everyday imports but weapons that could put
an end to civilization as we know it. This is the setting for the ninth
book by Canadian science fiction writer William Gibson, which will engross
readers with its large cast of characters and clever plot twists similar to
his classic novels Neuromancer and Mona Lisa Overdrive.
While there are several protagonists in this novel, a rock-star turned
freelance journalist named Hollis Henry is the center of attention. Hired by
an upstart computer magazine, Henry is flown to Los Angeles to write about a
new-fangled virtual-reality called “locative art.” It quickly
becomes evident that her actual duty is to help locate a missing shipping
container that is being tracked by several hackers and intelligence agents,
or "spooks", across the country.
Among those searching for the container is an operative named Brown whose
affiliation appears to lie with the U.S. Government. In his custody is a
drug addicted code-breaker named Milgrim who finds himself repeatedly
contemplating his escape while attempting to guide Brown to the mysterious
container. Together they follow a young man Brown deems his "IF", or Illegal
Facilitator, "a criminal whose crimes facilitate the crimes of others."
As if that weren’t enough, Gibson also tells the story through the eyes of
Brown’s "IF", a Russian-speaking, Cuban-Chinese man named Tito. Tito and his
family are perhaps the smallest organized crime unit in the world, with Tito
taking directions from his cousin Alejandro and following the teachings of
his deceased grandmother, Juana. His main role is to pass encrypted messages
saved on iPods to an elderly man who claims to have known his father, an
ex-KGB agent with ties to Fidel Castro.
While the plot may seem convoluted and elaborate, it actually reads fairly
easily. Unlike his earlier novels that are considered science fiction and
overtly futurist, Gibson continues his exploration of the here and now as he
did in his previous work, Pattern Recognition. While this book is not
meant to be a sequel, avid readers and fans of Gibson’s previous book will
celebrate the return of the ostentatious Hubertus Bigend, whose pockets
continue to be as deep as his background. It should be noted that one could
fully understand and enjoy the story without having read the previous book.
Though Gibson is noted for the ultramodern technology that he creates in his
stories, his use of existing gadgets such as cell phones, iPods, and laptops
throughout make this story entirely believable and all the more ominous.
Fans of smart political thrillers and conspiracy theorists alike will be in
awe of Gibson’s intelligible approach and ability to convey mind-boggling
ideas in a feasible manner. Science fiction readers will also be well
entertained despite the story’s present-day setting, as Gibson manages to
maintain a gloomy atmosphere familiar to his former works.
At times, the back and forth flow of the story can leave certain characters
neglected for several chapters at a time, forcing readers to flip back and
see where they left off. Despite these momentary lapses, the plot unfolds at
a solid pace and, unlike many books of the same genre, doesn’t lose its
audience in a complicated mess of unresolved storylines and baffling
dialogue. Without editorializing, Gibson takes a clear-cut, unbiased look at
the current state of a country that is growing progressively more
distrustful of itself and its government.