Zero History

While on my current trip in Bali, I’ve had the chance to do a little reading. One of the first things up on my list of books was the new William Gibson novel, Zero History. This is the follow-up to Spook Country from a few years ago, which, itself, was an indirect sequel to Pattern Recognition. Zero History completes a trilogy of sorts that is near future (or even recent past) contemporary fiction with a science fictional tone. All three novels feature the figure of “Hubertus Bigend,” the maverick (and seemingly batshit crazy) businessman who owns a company called, “Blue Ant.” Bigend is never a viewpoint character and is, in fact, more of a force of nature, as one of our protagonists in the last two novels, Hollis Henry, characterizes him.

Hollis Henry, a former singer in a briefly well known rock band, continues her wander through life begun in her encounter with Bigend in Spook Country. While wanting nothing to do with Bigend’s Bond villain style machinations, she finds herself swept in his wake, following his will. Milgrim, the benzo popping fellow from Spook Country, also makes a return visit and it could be argued that he is the actual primary character of this new book, not Hollis.

The initial focus is Bigend’s desire to get into the “recession proof” industry of designing clothes for the American military as well as his desire to track down the source of a secret brand of designer workman-like clothes that have been appearing in underground fashion. Bigend is worried that someone is stealing methods from his playbook and hires Hollis to track down the source. Milgrim, on the other end, is being used as an odd jobs man for Bigend after having been cleaned of his decade long benzo addiction (which was a key piece of his character in Spook History). The reconstituted Milgrim that begins to emerge is eventually quite a different fellow, more interesting but more unpredictable, than Bigend has expected. (He seems almost like a pet to Bigend originally…)

Things, of course, go pear shaped as unexpected forces come into play and off-screen actors begin to react to Bigend’s activities (and those of Hollis and Milgrim as his initial proxies).

I found the book a real joy to read. I’ve been a big fan of Gibson since I was a pre-teen reading Neuromancer and Count Zero, waiting for Mona Lisa Overdrive. I’ve rather appreciated how Gibson’s writing, in both style and content, has evolved and refused to be pigeon-holed into the “guy who invented cyberspace” box. I really do enjoy reading his contemporary set works and I say this as someone whose fiction is almost always genre-based within SF (spending my non-fiction time a bit more widely within history, anthropology, religious studies, etc.). The utter strangeness of his seemingly contemporary landscape, our world but skewed in perspective, is an utter joy to read, as is his prose.

I really recommend this book to people though I think people would be ill served to not have read Spook Country, at the very least, first, and really you should start with Pattern Recognition.