18 August 2007
A woman moves through a forest of symbols, peopled by liminal obsessives, gathering clues to a conspiratorial mystery. So might you describe Thomas Pynchon’s diabolically lean and funny The Crying of Lot 49, perhaps the most perfect American novel of its age. Fitting the same description is the new novel by William Gibson, whose own literary trajectory has seen him develop from noir prophet of cyberspace (the word he coined in Neuromancer, 1984) to a kind of wifi’d Pynchon for the ubiquitously sign-drenched present.
The heroine, Hollis, is a former singer for a cult early-1990s indie band, now a journalist. She accepts a commission from an obscure British magazine to interview some LA practitioners of “locative art”: installations in public places that are invisible unless you have a VR headset, in which case the virtual performance is overlaid on physical reality. But the tech genius behind the locative installations is also involved in something weirder: arcane data, encoded into the music on iPods, is being smuggled to Costa Rica and back through an old man who speaks Russian; and much ingenuity is being spent on trying to track a shipping container, flitting from boat to boat at sea for years, whose contents are are unknown. Continued →