The cast of characters in this book is gigantic and deeply weird. There's Hollis Henry, a faded pop star who finds herself covering the "locative art scene" for a magazine that may or may not exist -- and that may or may not be associated with Hubertus Bigend, the powerful and lunatic branding exec from Pattern Recognition. Hollis injects the novel with introspection about fame, micro-fame, fleeting fame, and art.
There's Tito, a kind of Cuban ninja, trained by the KGB and raised by a family of heroic spooks, now come to America and gone to ground. He is the excuse for a series of marvellous and meticulously researched spycraft sequences that have the technical fascination of the best technothrillers.
There's Brown, a savage wet-work off-the-books American spook (who may or may not still work for the US government), and his hostage, a junkie translator who is cuffed and kicked into listening in on the Russo-Cuban connection. Brown acts as a kind of meditation on the nature of deep secrecy, the unknowable world of the black-ops spook who can never be sure who he's working for and whether he's gone off the reservation.
Then there's the "locative art" kids, "VR" hackers who create 3D virtual sculptures that can only be seen while wearing goggles and standing in just the right place. These kids are Gibson's nod to his bastard child, "cyberspace," the word he coined in 1982, which has been pimped out by every dot-bomb con-man and gormless policy wonk in the world at this point.
These characters inhabit the exciting, futuristic world of 2006. And it is a futuristic place, our recent past, a place so weird and light-speed that we don't even notice it. Not until a master storyteller and keen observer like William Gibson comes along to show us what we're all living in.
Above all else, this is an exciting and vivid adventure novel, a book that you can't put down (I ended up sitting in a parking lot for an hour, unable to tear myself away from the last 70 pages). That is Gibson's special talent, the thing that makes him -- and science fiction -- such a powerful force for change in the world. Gibson has an agenda, a lot of keen observations, a philosophy, but they're wrapped up in a delightful coating of adventure and excitement.
It's a hard combination to beat -- a book that makes you smarter and sets your pulse racing while it fires your imagination. It's been four long years since we had a new Gibson novel, but it was worth the wait. This may be my favorite Gibson book of all time. Link