Sunday, September 16, 2007

Spook Country

"The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel."

Thus Gibson began his first novel, twenty-three years ago. About 2,173 pages later, he gives us the following...

Milgrim had never been one for metaphysics, but. . . .this text was starting to reveal the pleasure to be had from metaphysical contemplation. Particularly if you were contemplating these Free Spirit guys, who seemed to have been a combination of Charlie Manson and Hannibal Lecter.
And insofar as everything was equally of God, they taught, those who were most in touch with the Godness in every last thing would make it a point to do anything at all, particularly anything still forbidden by those who hadn't yet gotten the Free Spirit message. To which end they went around having sex with anybody they could get to hold still for it, or not, as the case might be—rape being viewed as particularly righteous, and murder equally so. It was like a secret religion of mutually empowered sociopaths, and Milgrim thought it was probably the gnarliest single example of human behavior he'd ever heard of. Someone like Manson, for instance, simply wouldn't have been able to get any traction, had he landed among the brothers and sisters of the Free Spirit. Probably, Milgrim guessed, Manson would've hated it. What good would it be to be Charlie Manson in a whole society of serial killers and rapists, each one convinced that he or she was directly manifesting the Holy Spirit?
But the other aspect of the Free Spirit that fascinated him, and this applied to the whole text, was how these heresies would get started, often spontaneously generating around some single medieval equivalent of your more outspoken homeless mumbler. Organized religion, he saw, back in the day, had been purely a signal-to-noise proposition, at once the medium and the message, a one-channel universe. For Europe, that channel was Christian, and broadcasting from Rome, but nothing could be broadcast faster than a man could travel on horseback. There was a hierarchy in place, and a highly organized methodology of top-down signal dissemination, but the time lag enforced by tech-lack imposed a near-disastrous ratio, the noise of heresy constantly threatening to overwhelm the signal.

It surprised me, as I progressed through the novel, that Milgrim ended up being one of the main vehicles of step-by-step commentary on interesting subjects not intrinsically tied to the plot of the book. I didn't guess him for that type of character, early on in the story.

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