Reviews of two brand new book releases ... 1. "Spook Country" by William Gibson <http://www.amazon.com/Spook-Country/dp/0399154302> William Gibson is the so-called "father of the cyberpunk" - a genre of science fiction that mixes streetwise characters with high tech, usually set in the future. Unlike much of his earlier work, "Spook Country" is set in the present. Hollis Henry, former member of cult band "The Curfew", is writing an article about "locative art" for Node magazine (an emerging European rival to Wired). She interviews a locative artist, who introduces her to a reclusive geek responsible for the technology used to generate geographically-specific, virtual reality-based installations. Meanwhile, a family of Cuban-Chinese New Yorkers is involved in the traffic of sensitive information. Tito, a young member of this family of spies (one of the "spooks"), is asked to do the legwork, passing iPods with encrypted data to a co-conspirator. Meanwhile, a man called Brown is part of another less-than-official organisation that is trying to work out what Tito's family is up to. He's keeping a drug-addict translator named Milgrim (a reference to the Milgram experiment?) as a sort of willing captive. Milgrim wants to escape, but that would deprive him of a steady and free supply of his drug of choice. These three threads eventually merge as the story reaches its climax. But it's a rather slow burn. Compared to Gibson's frenetic earlier work, this is a thriller on sedatives. As Gibson gets older, he seems to be tracking further from the future and back into the present. This would be ok, except that there seems to be more style than substance in his latest work. And that style is becoming rather tiresome. He name-drops so many brands that the references seem like the product placements you see in many Hollywood movies. Here's an example: "The door opened like some disturbing hybrid of bank vault and Armani evening purse, perfectly balanced bombproof solidity meeting sheer cosmetic slickness." Whatever. The three-star average rating on Amazon is about right. I would only recommend this book to ardent Gibson fans. His early books were more abstract and inventive. Try "Neuromancer" (which was written in 1984 using a typewriter) instead of "Spook Country". 2. "First Among Sequels" by Jasper Fforde <http://www.amazon.com/First-Among-Sequels/dp/0670038717> As the title suggests, this book is a sequel. In this case, it's the latest in the Thursday Next series. It's been 14 years since Literary Detective and Jurisfiction agent Thursday Next last saved the world from imminent destruction. She and her husband now have three (or is it only two) children. Cheese is still outlawed. After years of responsible rule by the Commonsense Party, the nation has an ominously large "Stupidity Surplus". Reading rates have dropped off alarmingly. In a desperate attempt to reduce the Stupidity Surplus and hopefully get people reading more, it is agreed to dumb down great works of literature by turning them into reality TV programs. Meanwhile, a recipe for "unscrambled eggs" left in one of Uncle Mycroft's old jackets is the key to the invention of time travel. ChronoGuard, the government department responsible for keeping time ticking smoothly, will not exist unless time travel is invented. ChronoGuard operatives from the future are co-operating with the Goliath Corporation to make sure the recipe is found. (Don't even try working out the logic of that.) Thursday wants to save literature from becoming reality TV fodder. She must also make sure the unscrambled eggs recipe remains locked away in BookWorld and out of ChronoGuard's reach. As an added degree of difficulty, she has to cope with training the BookWorld versions of herself to become Jurisfiction agents. It turns out that the Thursdays portrayed in the "Thursday Next" books of her reality are quite different to the "real" Thursday, so they are more of a hindrance than a help. Another enjoyable Thursday Next adventure.