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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)

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Even more important, "Google is the pi?ce de r?sistance of weird [stuff] finding," he says. "One of the things I've been doing in the eBay era -- I've become a really keen observer of the rationalization of the world's attic. Every class of human artifact is being sorted and rationalized by this economically driven machine that constantly turns it over and brings it to a higher level of searchability. . . . The tentacles of that operation extend into every flea market and thrift shop and basement and attic in the world. . . .

"Every hair is being numbered -- eBay has every grain of sand. EBay is serving this very, very powerful function which nobody ever intended for it. EBay in the hands of humanity is sorting every last Dick Tracy wrist radio cereal premium sticker that ever existed. It's like some sort of vast unconscious curatorial movement.

"Every toy I had as a child that haunted me, I've been able to see on eBay. The soft squeezy rubber frog with red shorts that made 'eek eek' noise until that part fell out. I found Froggy after some effort on eBay, and I found out that Froggy was made in 1948 and where he was made and what he was made of. I saw his box, which I'd long forgotten. I didn't have to buy Froggy, but I saved the jpegs. So I've got Froggy in my computer.

"This is new. People in really small towns can become world-class connoisseurs of something via eBay and Google. This didn't used to be possible. If you are sufficiently obsessive and diligent, you can be a little kid in some town in the backwoods of Tennessee and the world's premier info-monster about some tiny obscure area of stuff. That used to require a city. It no longer does."

The Book as Magic

Gibson is less than seven months away from turning 60. At one level, he's become a paragon of bourgeois respectability, having lived in Vancouver for 35 years, which is also as long as he's been married. His two kids are 30 and 24. He is lean and still shows up in denim shirts and khaki jeans and black sneakers. Is our new world one in which you can be a cool-hunter and an edgy world-inventor and a best-selling hipster forever?

"I saw an older gentleman walking down the street in San Francisco last week," Gibson says, "and he was like majorly Bluetoothed and rigged for very high connectivity and I thought, that's what we're all going to look like. The geezer of the future will have more plugs and jacks -- will be more into that, probably, than younger people -- because he'll need it."

In addition to the books for which he is best known, Gibson has worked on films and television and theater and dance and art and poetry and music. "Ask him about the dying days of ink on paper," Sterling writes in an e-mail. "Why 'books'? Why a narrative?"

"People are still asking me about the death of the book," Gibson responds, "and yet here I am and every day I go out to the biggest bookstores that have ever existed and are doing the most business daily of any bookstores in history.

"It's the oldest and the first mass medium. And it's the one that requires the most training to access. Novels, particularly, require serious cultural training. But it's still the same thing -- I make black marks on a white surface and someone else in another location looks at them and interprets them and sees a spaceship or whatever. It's magic. It's a magical thing. It's very old magic, but it's very thorough. The book is very well worked out, somewhat in the way that the wheel is very well worked out."

Near the end of his 1986 novel "Count Zero," Gibson presents a vision of a creature orbited by an endless swirl of novel stuff -- "A yellowing kid glove, the faceted crystal stopper from some vial of vanished perfume, an armless doll with a face of French porcelain, a fat, gold-fitted black fountain pen, rectangular segments of perf board, the crumpled red and green snake of a silk cravat . . . Endless, the slow swarm, the spinning things." This creature reaches out with dozens of arms and manipulators selecting items, shaping them and snipping them, transforming them into intricate and beautiful little works of art.

It is in part a homage to the collagist Joseph Cornell, an early artistic hero of Gibson's. But this is also his vision of himself. This is who he is, what he does, when he now describes our futures past.

In the same scene, a character "looked up in time to see a glittering arm snag the floating sleeve of her Brussels jacket. Her purse, half a meter behind it and tumbling gracefully, went next, hooked by a manipulator tipped with an optic sensor and a simple claw.

"The new box came tumbling out of the shifting flitter of arms. She caught it easily. The interior, behind the rectangle of glass, was smoothly lined with the sections of leather cut from her jacket. . . . The crumpled wrapper from a packet of Gauloise was mounted against black leather at the back, and beside it a black-striped gray matchbook from a brasserie in Napoleon Court."

"I am honored," she says.

"I sing with these things that float around me," says the creature.

Gibson, of course, would call his little box of magic -- the function of which is to raise eyebrows, and questions -- a book.

Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

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