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Through the Looking Glass

The author's new book, "Spook Country," is set in a shadowy, uncertain 2006 -- a time, he suggests, as strange as the future he created in his bestseller "Neuromancer." (By Pouya Dianat -- The Washington Post)

"And I'd say, ' But wait! Islamic terrorists from the Middle East have hijacked airplanes and flown them into the World Trade Center.' Not only would they not go for it, they probably would have called security."

Richness in the Details

Ask his peers for help getting at the ways Gibson has grown, and they e-mail questions to put to him. Kevin Kelly, a founding editor of Wired magazine, suggests, "Does the future matter anymore?"

Gibson is the man who, after all, in the late '80s observed, "The future is already here; it's just not evenly distributed."

He arranges glasses and cutlery on the restaurant table to describe how our lives have changed.

"When I wrote 'Neuromancer' " almost 25 years ago, he says, "cyberspace was there, and we were here. In 2007, what we no longer bother to call cyberspace is here, and those increasingly rare moments of nonconnectivity are there. And that's the difference. There's no scarlet-tinged dawn on which we rise and look out the window and go, 'Oh my God, it's all cyberspace now.' "

That, nonetheless, is the sort of recent past examined in "Spook Country."

It's plenty strange. His spring of 2006 involves a female main character who was once the lead singer of a rock band and is now reporting for a start-up magazine called Node, which may or may not ever publish a first issue. There are also a Cuban-Chinese New Yorker whose family business is crime-enabling, a mysterious old man who may or may not have once been important in American intelligence, and a recluse who has turned an advanced form of global positioning into a radical new art form with sinister applications. Many other characters run the gut-tightening gamut of the clever and the damned.

Gibson puts a premium on making his details rich. He's always wanted his world to be "naturalistic -- where people used toilets. And dry cleaners. And things got rusty and things broke." He recently caught up with the HBO series "Deadwood," which, among its many achievements, once portrayed possibly the most convincing case of kidney stone suffering ever captured on film. Gibson thinks it's the greatest television America has ever produced. "This is like what I wanted to do" in his work, he says, "but they were doing it with westerns."

He used to hang out in West Coast junk shops, cool-hunting. Not so much now. "Is eBay a much scarier thing than a pawnshop?" asks Bruce Sterling in an e-mail. Sterling is credited with co-founding with Gibson the "cyberpunk" movement, which turned away from white men in shiny rocket ships toward much more recognizable, if dystopian, worlds full of high-tech and lowlife. He adds, "I want you to ask him about the fact that he's got Google open" all the time now as he types.

"Bruce was the only guy I ever knew who was watching MTV with the sound off while listening to his own soundtrack while he was typing," Gibson says. "So I don't know why having a little Google open is that big a deal."

EBay as Curator

Having said that, Gibson says: "One of the biggest technologically driven changes in my writing is the awareness that every text today has a kind of spectral quasi-hypertext surrounding it." It is "all of the Googled information that found its way into the book but which isn't available to the reader as a literal hypertext unless you're willing to be the animator of the hypertext process" and Google each term that's distinctive and new.

"It's curious. When I published 'Pattern Recognition' " -- his previous book, which was also set in the recent past and achieved mainstream success -- "within a few months there was someone who started a Web site. People were compiling Googled references to every term and every place in the book. It has photographs of just about every locale in the book -- a massive site that was compiled by volunteer effort. But it took a couple of years to come together. With 'Spook Country,' the same thing was up on the Web before the book was published." Somebody got an advance reader copy, and instantly put up a site for his fictional Node magazine.


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