The SF innovator follows up his mainstream success (Pattern Recognition, 2003) with another novel set in the near-present, as three separate groups chase after a mysterious freight container.
Hollis Henry, erstwhile singer for a disbanded rock group, the Curfew, is now a freelance journalist with a baffling assignment from Node, a startup magazine that is remarkably averse to publicity. She’s researching “locative” art in Los Angeles, though her employer seems mostly to be interested in the GPS expertise of a guy who facilitates this high-tech virtual- reality genre. Tito belongs to a family of Chinese-Cuban immigrants involved in criminal enterprises in New York, aided by knowledge of Russian gained from a grandfather who worked with Soviet emissaries (and the CIA) in Havana. Milgrim is a drug addict who had the misfortune to be plucked from the streets by Brown, a creepy government operative who keeps him prisoner to take advantage of Milgrim’s linguistic skills, needed to decode text messages in a Russian-based artificial language sent among Tito’s family members. Gibson excels as usual in creating an off-kilter atmosphere of vague menace: Hollis’s wealthy employer and the old man to whom Tito is passing iPods initially seem as sinister as Brown. And the narrative features the author’s characteristically shrewd observations about everything from global piracy to conspiracy junkies to cultish rock fans. But the characters are vivid two-dimensional sketches rather than human beings, and the plot turns out to be a wish-fulfillment fantasy about getting back at the idiots and corporate crooks currently raking in the boodle in Iraq. There are some lovely metaphors and sharp insights as everyone converges on a Canadian port where Tito and his cohorts will do something to the container before Brown and his cohorts can get hold of it. But when the mists of mystification clear, what’s revealed isn’t very interesting.
Readable and mildly engaging, but not the kind of cutting-edge work we expect from Gibson.