Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Spook Country: William Gibson's Randonneuring Advice

OK, William Gibson's novel, Spook Country, really has nothing to do with randonneuring. In fact, I think the word bicycle only occurs a couple of times in the book. And I guess it says something about me that I notice how often the word bicycle occurs in the novels I read. But I see the world through bike-colored glasses and when I read a sentence like this one:

"He wasn't moving too quickly, she thought, but he was moving just as quickly as he could without actually moving too quickly." -- William Gibson, Spook Country, p.329

I think, William Gibson understands something about how to ride brevets.

Gibson's oddly named characters (I'm convinced one of them appeared in Gibson's imagination with the introductory words, "call me Inchmale") do not think or speak about bicycles. They do, however, explore a strange world (ours) and a strange time (now). The riddle of what these character are doing and why is what propels the narrative forward but the small touches make the novel. At 3:00 AM Hollis will envy her sleeping PowerBook. Later, she'll recount how Inchmale helped her quit smoking thanks to dangerous home-made epidermal patches made of cigarette butts and duct tape. Other characters know other things, things useful to know in certain contexts, like the fact that one million dollars in hundreds weighs about 23 pounds and fits in a small suitcase. By the way, "two-point four billion, in hundreds, only took up the same amount of space as seventy-four washing machines, although it was considerably heavier."

Gibson writes about resourceful people solving problems in the pursuit of a sometimes uncertain goal. Perhaps this has nothing to do with randonneuring or bicycles. Perhaps it has everything to do with it. All I know is that when I roll through the darkened streets, following cues to some checkpoint down the road, my actions are as mysterious to an outsider, my motives as obscure, as any character in Spook Country. And I really wish I could write half as well as William Gibson.
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