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Zero History Audio CD – Audiobook, Unabridged
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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Inchmale hailed a cab for her, the kind that had always been black, when she'd first known this city.
Pearlescent silver, this one. Glyphed in Prussian blue, advertising something German, banking services or business software; a smoother simulacrum of its black ancestors, its faux-leather upholstery a shade of orthopedic fawn.
"Their money's heavy," he said, dropping a loose warm mass of pound coins into her hand. "Buys many whores." The coins still retained the body heat of the fruit machine from which he'd deftly wrung them, almost in passing, on their way out of the King's Something.
"My countrymen's. Freely given."
"I don't need this." Trying to hand it back.
"For the cab." Giving the driver the address in Portman Square.
"Oh Reg," she said, "it wasn't that bad. I had it in money markets, most of it."
"Bad as anything else. Call him."
"Call him," he repeated, wrapped in Japanese herringbone Gore-Tex, multiply flapped and counter-intuitively buckled.
He closed the cab's door.
She watched him through the rear window as the cab pulled away. Stout and bearded, he turned now in Greek Street, a few minutes past midnight, to rejoin his stubborn protégé, Clammy of the Bollards. Back to the studio, to take up their lucrative creative struggle.
She sat back, noticing nothing at all until they passed Selfridges, the driver taking a right.
The club, only a few years old, was on the north side of Portman Square. Getting out, she paid and generously tipped the driver, anxious to be rid of Inchmale's winnings.
Cabinet, so called; of Curiosities, unspoken. Inchmale had become a member shortly after they, the three surviving members of the Curfew, had licensed the rights to "Hard to Be One" to a Chinese automobile manufacturer. Having already produced one Bollards album in Los Angeles, and with Clammy wanting to record the next in London, Inchmale had argued that joining Cabinet would ultimately prove cheaper than a hotel. And it had, she supposed, but only if you were talking about a very expensive hotel.
She was staying there now as a paying guest. Given the state of money markets, whatever those were, and the conversations she'd been having with her accountant in New York, she knew that she should be looking for more modestly priced accommodations.
A peculiarly narrow place, however expensive, Cabinet occupied half the vertical mass of an eighteenth-century townhouse, one whose façade reminded her of the face of someone starting to fall asleep on the subway. It shared a richly but soberly paneled foyer with whatever occupied the other, westernmost, half of the building, and she'd formed a vague conviction that this must be a foundation of some kind, perhaps philanthropic in nature, or dedicated to the advancement of peace in the Middle East, however eventual. Something hushed, in any case, as it appeared to have no visitors at all.
There was nothing, on façade or door, to indicate what that might be, no more than there was anything to indicate that Cabinet was Cabinet.
She'd seen those famously identical, silver-pelted Icelandic twins in the lounge, the first time she'd gone there, both of them drinking red wine from pint glasses, something Inchmale dubbed an Irish affectation. They weren't members, he'd made a point of noting. Cabinet's members, in the performing arts, were somewhat less than stellar, and she assumed that that suited Inchmale just about as well as it suited her.
It was the decor that had sold Inchmale, he said, and very likely it had been. Both he and it were arguably mad.
Pushing open the door, through which one might have ridden a horse without having to duck to clear the lintel, she was greeted by Robert, a large and comfortingly chalk-striped young man whose primary task was to mind the entrance without particularly seeming to.
"Good evening, Miss Henry."
"Good evening, Robert."
The decorators had kept it down, here, which was to say that they hadn't really gone publicly, ragingly, batshit insane. There was a huge, ornately carved desk, with something vaguely pornographic going on amid mahogany vines and grape clusters, at which sat one or another of the club's employees, young men for the most part, often wearing tortoiseshell spectacles of the sort she suspected of having been carved from actual turtles.
Beyond the desk's agreeably archaic mulch of paperwork twined a symmetrically opposed pair of marble stairways, leading to the floor above; that floor being bisected, as was everything above this foyer, into twin realms of presumed philanthropic mystery and Cabinet. From the Cabinet side, now, down the stairs with the wider-shins twist, cascaded the sound of earnest communal drinking, laughter and loud conversation bouncing sharply off unevenly translucent stone, marbled in shades of aged honey, petroleum jelly, and nicotine. The damaged edges of individual steps had been repaired with tidy rectangular inserts of less inspired stuff, pallid and mundane, which she was careful never to step on.
A tortoise-framed young man, seated at the desk, passed her the room key without being asked.
"You're welcome, Miss Henry."
Beyond the archway separating the stairways, the floor plan gave evidence of hesitation. Indicating, she guessed, some awkwardness inherent in the halving of the building's original purpose. She pressed a worn but regularly polished brass button, to call down the oldest elevator she'd ever seen, even in London. The size of a small, shallow closet, wider than it was deep, it took its time, descending its elongated cage of black-enameled steel.
To her right, in shadow, illuminated from within by an Edwardian museum fixture, stood a vitrine displaying taxidermy. Game birds, mostly; a pheasant, several quail, others she couldn't put a name to, all mounted as though caught in motion, crossing a sward of faded billiard-felt. All somewhat the worse for wear, though no more than might be expected for their probable age. Behind them, anthropomorphically upright, forelimbs outstretched in the manner of a cartoon somnambulist, came a moth-eaten ferret. Its teeth, which struck her as unrealistically large, she suspected of being wooden, and painted. Certainly its lips were painted, if not actually rouged, lending it a sinisterly festive air, like someone you'd dread running into at a Christmas party. Inchmale, on first pointing it out to her, had suggested she adopt it as a totem, her spirit beast. He claimed that he already had, subsequently discovering he could magically herniate the disks of unsuspecting music executives at will, causing them to suffer excruciating pain and a profound sense of helplessness.
The lift arrived. She'd been a guest here long enough to have mastered the intricacies of the articulated steel gate. Resisting an urge to nod to the ferret, she entered and ascended, slowly, to the third floor.
Here the narrow hallways, walls painted a very dark green, twisted confusingly. The route to her room involved opening several of what she assumed were fire doors, as they were very thick, heavy, and self-closing. The short sections of corridor, between, were hung with small watercolors, landscapes, un-peopled, each one featuring a distant folly. The very same distant folly, she'd noticed, regardless of the scene or region depicted. She refused to give Inchmale the satisfaction he'd derive from her asking about these, so hadn't. Something too thoroughly liminal about them. Best not addressed. Life sufficiently complicated as it was.
The key, attached to a weighty brass ferrule sprouting thick soft tassels of braided maroon silk, turned smoothly in the lock's brick-sized mass. Admitting her to Number Four, and the concentrated impact of Cabinet's designers' peculiarity, theatrically revealed when she prodded the mother-of-pearl dot set into an otherwise homely gutta-percha button.
Too tall, somehow, though she imagined that to be the result of a larger room having been divided, however cunningly. The bathroom, she suspected, might actually be larger than the bedroom, if that weren't some illusion.
They'd run with that tallness, employing a white, custom-printed wallpaper, decorated with ornate cartouches in glossy black. These were comprised, if you looked more closely, of enlarged bits of anatomical drawings of bugs. Scimitar mandibles, spiky elongated limbs, the delicate wings (she imagined) of mayflies. The two largest pieces of furniture in the room were the bed, its massive frame covered entirely in slabs of scrimshawed walrus ivory, with the enormous, staunchly ecclesiastic-looking lower jawbone of a right whale, fastened to the wall at its head, and a birdcage, so large she might have crouched in it herself, suspended from the ceiling. The cage was stacked with books, and fitted, inside, with minimalist Swiss halogen fixtures, each tiny bulb focused on one or another of Number Four's resident artifacts. And not just prop books, Inchmale had proudly pointed out. Fiction or non-, they all seemed to be about England, and so far she'd read parts of Dame Edith Sitwell's English Eccentrics and most of Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male.
She took off her coat, putting it on a stuffed, satin-covered hanger in the wardrobe, and sat on the edge of the bed to untie her shoes. The Piblokto Madness bed, Inchmale called it. "Intense hysteria," she recited now, from memory, "depression, coprophagia, insensitivity to cold, echolalia." She kicked her shoes in the direction of the wardrobe's open door. "Hold the coprophagia," she added. Cabin fever, this culture-bound, arctic condition. Possibly dietary in origin. Linked to vitamin A toxicity. Inchmale was full of this sort of information, never more so than when he was in the studio. Give Clammy a whole hod of vitamin A, she'd suggested, he looks like he could use it.
Her gaze fell on three unopened brown cartons, stacked to the left of the wardrobe. These contained shrink-wrapped copies of the British edition of a book she'd written in hotel rooms, though none as peculiarly memorable as this one. She'd begun just after the Chinese car commercial money had come in. She'd gone to Staples, West Hollywood, and bought three flimsy Chinese-made folding tables, to lay the manuscript and its many illustrations out on, in her corner suite at the Marmont. That seemed a long time ago, and she didn't know what she'd do with these copies. The cartons of her copies of the American edition, she now remembered, were still in the luggage room of the Tribeca Grand.
"Echolalia," she said, and stood, removing her sweater, which she folded and put in a chest-high drawer in the wardrobe, beside a small silk land mine of potpourri. If she didn't touch it, she knew, she wouldn't have to smell it. Putting on an off-white Cabinet robe, more velour than terry but somehow just missing whatever it was that made her so un-fond of velour bathrobes. Men, particularly, looked fundamentally untrustworthy in them.
The room phone began to ring. It was a collage, its massive nautical-looking handset of rubber-coated bronze resting in a leather-padded cradle atop a cubical box of brass-cornered rosewood. Its ring was mechanical, tiny, as though you were hearing an old-fashioned bicycle bell far off down a quiet street. She stared hard, willing it to silence.
"Intense hysteria," she said.
It continued to ring.
Three steps and her hand was on it.
It was as absurdly heavy as ever.
"Coprophagia." Briskly, as if announcing a busy department in a large hospital.
"Hollis," he said, "hello."
She looked down at the handset, heavy as an old hammer and nearly as battered. Its thick cord, luxuriously cased in woven burgundy silk, resting against her bare forearm.
She pictured herself driving the handset through brittle antique rosewood, crushing the aged electro-mechanical cricket within. Too late now. It had already fallen silent.
"I saw Reg," he said.
"I told him to ask you to call."
"I didn't," she said.
"Good to hear your voice," he said.
"A good night's sleep, then," heartily. "I'll be by in the morning, for breakfast. We're driving back tonight. Pamela and I."
"Where are you?"
She saw herself taking an early cab to Paddington, the street in front of Cabinet deserted. Catching the Heathrow Express. Flying somewhere. Another phone ringing, in another room. His voice.
"Norwegian black metal," he said, flatly. She pictured Scandinavian folk jewelry, then self-corrected: the musical genre. "Reg said I might find it interesting."
Good for him, she thought, Inchmale's subclinical sadism sometimes finding a deserving target.
"I was planning on sleeping in," she said, if only to be difficult. She knew now that it was going to be impossible to avoid him.
"Eleven, then," he said. "Looking forward to it."
"Good night. Hubertus."
"Good night." He hung up.
She put the handset down. Careful of the hidden cricket. Not its fault.
Nor even his, probably. Whatever he was.
2. EDGE CITY
Milgrim considered the dog-headed angels in Gay Dolphin Gift Cove.
Their heads, rendered slightly less than three-quarter scale, appeared to have been cast from the sort of plaster once used to produce worryingly detailed wall-decorations: pirates, Mexicans, turbaned Arabs. There would almost certainly be examples of those here as well, he thought, in the most thoroughgoing trove of roadside American souvenir kitsch he'd ever seen.
Their bodies, apparently humanoid under white satin and sequins, were long, Modigliani-slender, perilously upright, paws crossed piously in the manner of medieval effigies. Their wings were the wings of Christmas ornaments, writ larger than would suit the average tree.
They were intended, he decided, with half a dozen of assorted breed facing him now, from behind glass, to sentimentally honor deceased pets.
Hands in trouser pockets, he quickly swung his gaze to a broader but generally no less peculiar visual complexity, noting as he did a great many items featuring Confederate-flag motifs. Mugs, magnets, ashtrays, statuettes. He considered a knee-high jockey boy, proffering a small round tray rather than the traditional ring. Its head and hands were a startling Martian green (so as not to give the traditional offense, he assumed). There were also energetically artificial orchids, coconuts carved to suggest the features of some generically indigenous race, and prepackaged collections of rocks and minerals. It was like being on the bottom of a Coney Island grab-it game, one in which the eclectically un-grabbed had been accumulating for decades. He looked up, imagining a giant, three-pronged claw, agent of stark removal, but there was only a large and heavily varnished shark, suspended overhead like the fuselage of a small plane.
How old did a place like this have to be, in America, to have "gay" in its name? Some percentage of the stock here, he judged, had been manufactured in Occupied Japan.
Half an hour earlier, across North Ocean Boulevard, he'd watched harshly tonsured child-soldiers, clad in skateboarding outfits still showing factory creases, ogling Chinese-made orc-killing blades, spiked and serrated like the jaws of extinct predators. The seller's stand had been hung with Mardi Gras beads, Confederate-flag beach towels, unauthorized Harley-Davidson memorabilia. He'd wondered how many young men had enjoyed an afternoon in Myrtle Beach as a final treat, before heading ultimately for whatever theater of war, wind whipping sand along the Grand Strand and the boardwalk.
In the amusement arcades, he judged, some of the machines were older than he was. And some of his own angels, not the better ones, spoke of an ancient and deeply impacted drug culture, ground down into the carnival grime of the place, interstitial and immortal; sundamaged skin, tattoos unreadable, eyes that peered from faces suggestive of gas-station taxidermy.
He was meeting someone here.
They were supposed to be alone. He himself wasn't, really. Somewhere nearby, Oliver Sleight would be watching a Milgrim-cursor on a website, on the screen of his Neo phone, identical to Milgrim's own. He'd given Milgrim the Neo on that first flight from Basel to Heathrow, stressing the necessity of keeping it with him at all times, and turned on, except when aboard commercial flights.
He moved, now, away from the dog-headed angels, the shadow of the shark. Past articles of an ostensibly more natural history: starfish, sand dollars, sea horses, conchs. He climbed a short flight of broad stairs, from the boardwalk level, toward North Ocean Boulevard. Until he found himself, eye-to-navel, with the stomach of a young, very pregnant woman, her elastic-paneled jeans chemically distressed in ways that suggested baroquely improbable patterns of wear. The taut pink T-shirt revealed her protruding navel in a way he found alarmingly suggestive of a single giant breast.
"You'd better be him," she said, then bit her lower lip. Blond, a face he'd forget as soon as he looked away. Large dark eyes.
"I'm meeting someone," he said, careful to maintain eye contact, uncomfortably aware that he was actually addressing the navel, or nipple, directly in front of his mouth.
Her eyes grew larger. "You aren't foreign, are you?"
"New York," Milgrim admitted, assuming that might all too easily qualify.
"I don't want him getting in any trouble," she said, at once softly and fiercely.
"None of us does," he instantly assured her. "No need. At all." His attempted smile felt like something forced from a flexible squeeze-toy. "And you are…; ?
"Seven or eight months," she said, in awe at her own gravidity. "He's not here. He didn't like this, here."
"None of us does," he said, then wondered if that was the right thing to say.
"You got GPS?"
"Yes," said Milgrim. Actually, according to Sleight, their Neos had two kinds, American and Russian, the American being notoriously political, and prone to unreliability in the vicinity of sensitive sites.
"He'll be there in an hour," she said, passing Milgrim a faintly damp slip of folded paper. "You better get started. And you better be alone."
Milgrim took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," he said, "but if it means driving, I won't be able to go alone. I don't have a license. My friend will have to drive me. It's a white Ford Taurus X."
She stared at him. Blinked. "Didn't they just fuck Ford up, when they went to giving them f-names?"
"My mother had a Freestyle. Transmission's a total piece of shit. Get that computer wet, car won't move at all. Gotta disconnect it first. Brakes wore out about two weeks off the lot. They always made that squealing noise anyway." But she seemed comforted, in this, as if by the recollection of something maternal, familiar.
"Right as rain," he said, surprising himself with an expression he might never have used before. He pocketed the slip of paper without looking at it. "Could you do something for me, please?" he asked her belly. "Could you call him, now, and let him know my friend will be driving?"
Lower lip worked its way back under her front teeth.
"My friend has the money," Milgrim said. "No trouble."
"And she called him?" asked Sleight, behind the wheel of the Taurus X, from the center of a goatee he occasionally trimmed with the aid of a size-adjustable guide, held between his teeth.
"She indicated she would," Milgrim said.
They were headed inland, toward the town of Conway, through a landscape that reminded Milgrim of driving somewhere near Los Angeles, to a destination you wouldn't be particularly anxious to reach. This abundantly laned highway, lapped by the lots of outlet malls, a Home Depot the size of a cruise ship, theme restaurants. Though interstitial detritus still spoke stubbornly of maritime activity and the farming of tobacco. Fables from before the Anaheiming. Milgrim concentrated on these leftovers, finding them centering. A lot offering garden mulch. A four-store strip mall with two pawnshops. A fireworks emporium with its own batting cage. Loans on your auto title. Serried ranks of unpainted concrete garden statuary.
"Was that a twelve-step program you were in, in Basel?" asked Sleight.
"I don't think so," said Milgrim, assuming Sleight was referring to the number of times his blood had been changed.
"How close will those numbers put us to where he wants us?" Milgrim asked. Sleight, back in Myrtle Beach, had tapped coordinates from the pregnant girl's note into his phone, which now rested on his lap.
"Close enough," Sleight said. "Looks like that's it now, off to the right."
They were well through Conway, or in any case through the malled-over fringes of whatever Conway was. Buildings were thinning out, the landscape revealing more of the lineaments of an extinct agriculture.
Sleight slowed, swung right, onto spread gravel, a crushed limestone, pale gray. "Money's under your seat," he said. They were rolling, with a smooth, even crunch of tires in gravel, toward a long, one-story, white-painted clapboard structure, overhung with a roof that lacked a porch beneath it. Rural roadside architecture of some previous day, plain but sturdy. Four smallish rectangular front windows had been modernized with plate glass.
Milgrim had the cardboard tube for the tracing paper upright between his thighs, two sticks of graphite wrapped in a Kleenex in the right side pocket of his chinos. There was half of a fresh five-foot sheet of foam-core illustration board in the back seat, in case he needed a flat surface to work on. Holding the bright red tube with his knees, he bent forward, fishing under the seat, and found a metallic-blue vinyl envelope with a molded integral zipper and three binder-holes. It contained enough bundled hundreds to give it the heft of a good-sized paperback dictionary.
Gravel-crunch ceased as they halted, not quite in front of the building. Milgrim saw a primitive rectangular sign on two weather-grayed uprights, rain-stained and faded, unreadable except for FAMILY, in pale blue italic serif caps. There were no other vehicles in the irregularly shaped gravel lot.
He opened the door, got out, stood, the red tube in his left hand. He considered, then uncapped it, drawing out the furled tracing paper. He propped the red tube against the passenger seat, picked up the money, and closed the door. A scroll of semi-translucent white paper was less threatening.
Cars passed on the highway. He walked the fifteen feet to the sign, his shoes crunching loudly on the gravel. Above the blue italic FAMILY, he made out EDGE CITY in what little remained of a peeling red; below it, RESTAURANT. At the bottom, to the left, had once been painted, in black, the childlike silhouettes of three houses, though like the red, sun and rain had largely erased them. To the right, in a different blue than FAMILY, was painted what he took to be a semi-abstract representation of hills, possibly of lakes. He guessed that this place was on or near the town's official outskirts, hence the name.
Someone, within the silent, apparently closed building, rapped sharply, once, on plate glass, perhaps with a ring.
Milgrim went obediently to the front door, the tracing paper upheld in one hand like a modest scepter, the vinyl envelope held against his side with the other.
The door opened inward, revealing a football player with an Eighties porn haircut. Or someone built like one. A tall, long-legged young man with exceptionally powerful-looking shoulders. He stepped back, gesturing for Milgrim to enter.
"Hello," said Milgrim, stepping into warm unmoving air, mixed scents of industrial-strength disinfectant and years of cooking. "I have your money." Indicating the plastic envelope. A place unused, though ready to be used. Mothballed, Edge City, like a B-52 in the desert. He saw the empty glass head of a gum machine, on its stand of wrinkle-finished brown pipe.
"Put it on the counter," the young man said. He wore pale blue jeans and a black T-shirt, both of which looked as though they might contain a percentage of Spandex, and heavy-looking black athletic shoes. Milgrim noted a narrow, rectangular, unusually positioned pocket, quite far down on the right side-seam. A stainless steel clip held some large folding knife firmly there.
Milgrim did as he was told, noting the chrome and the turquoise leatherette of the row of floor-mounted stools in front of the counter, which was topped with worn turquoise Formica. He partially unfurled the paper. "I'll need to make tracings," he explained. "It's the best way to capture the detail. I'll take photographs first."
"Who's in the car?"
"Why can't you drive?"
"DUI," said Milgrim, and it was true, at least in some philosophical sense.
Silently, the young man rounded an empty glass display-case that would once have contained cigarettes and candy. When he was opposite Milgrim, he reached beneath the counter and drew out something in a crumpled white plastic bag. He dropped this on the counter and swept the plastic envelope toward the far end, giving the impression that his body, highly trained, was doing these things of its own accord, while he himself continued to survey from some interior distance.
Milgrim opened the bag and took out a pair of folded, un-pressed trousers. They were the coppery beige shade he knew as coyote brown. Unfolding them, he lay them out flat along the Formica, took the camera from his jacket pocket, and began to photograph them, using the flash. He took six shots of the front, then turned them over and took six of the back. He took one photograph each of the four cargo pockets. He put the camera down, turned the pants inside out, and photographed them again. Pocketing the camera, he arranged them, still inside out, more neatly on the counter, spread the first of the four sheets of paper over them, and began, with one of the graphite sticks, to make his rubbing.
He liked doing this. There was something inherently satisfying about it. He'd been sent to Hackney, to a tailor who did alterations, to spend an afternoon learning how to do it properly, and it pleased him, somehow, that this was a time-honored means of stealing information. It was like making a rubbing of a tombstone, or a bronze in a cathedral. The medium-hard graphite, if correctly applied, captured every detail of seam and stitching, all a sample-maker would need to reproduce the garment, as well as providing for reconstruction of the pattern.
While he worked, the young man opened the envelope, unpacked the bundled hundreds, and silently counted them. "Needs a gusset," he said as he finished.
"Pardon?" Milgrim paused, the fingers of his right hand covered with graphite dust.
"Gusset," the young man said, reloading the blue envelope. "Inner thighs. They bind, if you're rappelling."
"Thanks," Milgrim said, showing graphite-smudged fingers. "Would you mind turning them over for me? I don't want to get this on them."
"Delta to Atlanta," Sleight said, handing Milgrim a ticket envelope. He was back in the very annoying suit he'd forgone for Myrtle Beach, the one with the freakishly short trousers.
"Coach," said Sleight, his satisfaction entirely evident. He passed Milgrim a second envelope. "British Midland to Heathrow."
Sleight frowned. "Business."
"He'll want you in a meeting, straight off the plane."
Milgrim nodded. "Bye," he said. He tucked the red tube beneath his arm and headed for check-in, his bag in his other hand, walking directly beneath a very large South Carolina state flag, oddly Islamic with its palm tree and crescent moon.
Gibson is known for his multilayered fictional explorations of contemporary trends--here, fashion and marketing. Hubertus Bigend wants to create a market for U.S. military/combat apparel, a product he views as recession proof. The novel deals with nefarious dealings in the fashion industry, as well as international espionage and intrigue. Narrator Robertson Dean brings to life the book's diverse personalities--in particular, former journalist and rock star Hollis Henry, who is hired by Bigend to track down the designer of Gabriel Hounds clothing (with whom Bigend hopes to partner). Dean also excels at portraying Milgrim, a recovering addict who works with Henry. Of course, there are the inevitable twists, and Dean's focused style captures these moments with aplomb. D.J.S. © AudioFile 2010, Portland, Maine
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So let me address Zero History specifically. The entire Bigend series has been an extreme, and I would guess, very deliberate departure from the previous Gibson dystopian-based books such as Neutomancer and the Bridge and Sprawl Trilogies. Those were all great books to be sure. Zero History is, plot wise, a real puzzler for many Gibson fans. There is the sense by many that Gibson has "lost his way" and perhaps even grown "contemptuous" of his own readership; the very ones that made his name famous. I'm really not sure what his motivation has been in writing these books and quite frankly, I don't care. Gibson's writing skills are such that Zero History still represents the same brilliance as his previous works. I've watched a couple of interviews of Gibson and he rambles on in such a manner and at such length that it is hard to follow his reasoning as far as his own writing process goes. When Gibson speaks of his own writing style he seems to be saying that he doesn't really start off with any specific plot or work on any of that beforehand but he says he allows the narrative that takes place as he writes to move the story forward (if I understood him correctly). In any event, as for Zero History, he seems to be fascinated with exploring the common standard global practice of corporate espionage, innovative marketing techniques, etc., which are the very foundation of our current global infrastructure and capitalist societies.
Zero History proves again that Gibson is, as always, a master of the English language. He constructs some of the most interesting sentences I have ever read. In addition, his vocabulary is absolutely awe-inspiring. I have often said that I would hate to go up against Gibson in a Scrabble game (not that I'm necessarily any good at Scrabble in the first place.)The man is absolutely a walking dictionary and encyclopedia. He seems to know about more obscure trivia than anyone I have ever read. It may be a good idea for some to either read his books on an e-book or have a good dictionary and encyclopedia nearby when reading.
There is a common complaint about Zero History that keeps cropping up again and again: many have commented on on what I feel is an unfair and even ridiculous criticism of Zero History for it's use of popular product placements throughout the book. Apple products in particular seem to be a prime target of those criticisms. However, Apple is a perfect example of what this book is about in the first place. Just so you know: I have never owned an Apple product in my life. Anyway, like the Gabriel Hounds products that are the primary focus of Bigend's corporate espionage, Apple seems to act as a kind of literary corporate counterpoint to the whole obscure Gabriel Hounds jeans thing. Both products are highly desired products for those who can afford them and who are also among the "hip" and "in the know" kind of people who chase after the latest, greatest products. The desirability of these products increases proportionately to their higher cost and even better: their hard-to-find/get nature.
I initially had some problems with some of the characters in Zero History, but by the end of the book, I realized how brilliantly these characters were realized. As previously mentioned, Milgrim is my all-time favorite character in the Gibson pantheon. Milgrim is a kind of archetype of sorts. He is a man-child being reborn; initially a true enigma; a burnt out drug-addict with a serious panic/anxiety disorder. It is fascinating to observe Milgrim's rebirth and development under the control of Bigend, the man behind the scene. Milgrim IS the man with zero history being put back together--reconstituted/rebuilt--by Bigend just because Bigend has the money, power and curiosity to do so. Bigend is, in this particular guise, a kind of Dr. Frankenstein. Instead of putting together a human being from dead men's parts, however, he uses the dead soul of a drug addict (Milgrim) instead just to see what will become of it all.
While Milgrim is perhaps the most fascinating character in the lineup, the key protagonist actually Hollis Henry, a former singer with a band called the Curfew. She reluctantly becomes another one of Bigend's corporate agents--a corporatespy if you will on a very specific mission-- for Bigend. Bigend himself is the creepy, spoiled Belgian super wealthy corporate magnate who is constantly coming up with all of these what-if schemes to satisfy his own curiosity. Money, however, is not really Bigend's motivation: Bigend has so much wealth and apparently such a lot of time on his hands that all he has to do is find means of satisfying his own obsessive compulsions and curiosities about things that matter little to the vast majority of humankind. Hollis is really not a terribly strong character and falls in with Bigend once more simply on the basis of financial need (like most of us). The inability of Hollis to say "no" to Bigend renders her as little more than another one of his pawns in his game of corporate dominance. In fact, the bulk of the characters in Zero History are little more than the puppets of this Grand Puppetmaster, "Just Call Me Curious", Bigend. They seem to lack any real will of their own when they're in the presence of this master manipulator of their minds and wills. Bigend always finds a way to keep them hooked and interested in his missions.
There is no question that Zero History is different than his previous "cyber-punk" writings. The entire Bigend Trilogy is different and a distinct departure from his previous writings. I do not think that justifies dismissing Gibson simply because they are so different. Why lock writers or any artist into a rut? I enjoy it when artists spread their wings and explore different things. I especially do not understand those who claim that they simply stopped reading Zero History after 30 minutes or some such nonsense. I mean, to each his or her own, but in my opinion that invalidates their opinion entirely. That reminds me of those people who rave on about this or that movie who have never actually gone to see it but are reacting only to the opinions of others or some media hype. As I've said before, I loved all of the previous writings of Gibson, and I initially had some readjustments to do with this trilogy, but having thoroughly given it a fair examination, it has become another favorite of mine in my Gibson collection. I respect it's differences. I do not see it as some kind of cheap, sell-out product endorsement of Apple products or any other product. Again, that misses the point of the use of Apple products as a iconic type of product that Gibson is purposely using as an example from which to base his mysterious Gabriel Hounds products on. I get the fact that many of you don't seem to be interested in things corporate. But again, corporations are one of the key components of the fabric of our society and Gibson explores it brilliantly. Please read Zero History ALL the way through before judging it. Better yet, read the entire trilogy--Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, Zero History--before making your opinions known.
As for me, Zero History is a very fascinating read and now that I've read it for the third time, it will remain among my favorite books. It just keeps getting better with every new read. Highly recommended for those who simply enjoy great writing.
Nonetheless, this is premium Gibson at work. Unlikely charcters in an unlikely story about facets of our culture that are real, all around us, and still we don’t see it unless someone shifts our attention to it.
Funny thing is, as soon as the Hounds narrative began, I was suddenly assaulted by a fuzzy feeling of “I heard this before”, and suddenly recalled this conversation I had a few months ago, so, years after the release of the book, with a girl and some friends, about a fashion brand that is selling some pretty common itens for an outrageous price, not very hush hush, but hard to cone by.
And that’s the kind of thing that is glorious about Gibson: how the story travels among unknown, however real, aspects of the darker corners of modern life. A real cyberpunk, so to speak. And as usual, the author does that in a very sensible way, that is, no sudden outbursts of adventure, big shootouts, or usual villains, only the most sensible, and even boring, in a good way, translation of reality.
Maybe not a master piece, certainly not something for someone new to William Gibson, but undoubtly a wonderful gift to those who already know his work.
Last but not least, regarding the audible version that allowed me to taste this work whenever I couldn’t read per se. Awful. Just awful. The attempt to convince you that a certain dialog belongs to a woman, or even when it changes from one man to another, is almost an insult to listeners. Penguim should certainly rise to the quality of the Star Wars audiobooks, or the one from American Gods, both of which go to enough lengths not to let the listeber lost as to who’s saying what.
I love the concept of secret fashion and corporate espionage, but I struggled to get far enough into the story to understand what was going on and to appreciate the characters. At the end, Gibson got bored with himself and wrapped up the tale with a little bow, leaving enough loose ends for a sequel. Given that it's been 10 years since be wrote Zero History, I'm unsure if Agency is a sequel or not.
Top international reviews
I love William Gibson's writing, so anything I put here would be biased. I could recommend it but it may not be to your taste at all - how would I know?
Virtually everything in this book is doable with present technology, unlike the 80's stuff which was so prophetic in so many ways but outlandish in others.
The beauty of the prose is still in it's complex weaving of many seemingly unconnected threads into one explosive climax, but the jewels that adorn it are more style and esoteric knowledge than technology and unimaginable ( to people who aren't William Gibson!) cultures and concepts.
The trademarks of descriptions that make you want to stop a while and savour them, and strong female characters trying to overcome their maternal instincts to their uncharacteristically intuitive but physically inept wards are still present and correct thankfully.
I read recently someone stating that Cyberpunk was misogynistic, and was flabbergasted that someone pretending to be an authority on Cyberpunk had managed to misunderstand the entirety of the body of work of Gibson.
I don't think anyone could say he wasn't one of the most well known pioneers in the genre!
I thought the English stuff was fairly well done in terms of location and dialect, but the plot didn't really engage me and I found it somewhat confusing at times. There is something (big) that Bigend really wants, but it's hidden away and almost inconsequential.
Having said that there is some excellent writing: "[The Neo phone]....was also prone to something Sleight called "kernel panic" which caused it to freeze and need to be restarted, a condition Milgrim himself had been instantly inclined to identify with."; "Milgrim....was caught in some frustrating loop of semi-sleep, slow and circular, in which exhaustion swung him slowly out, toward where sleep should surely have been, then overshot the mark somehow..."; And my favourite: "These were, she gathered, private internets, unlicensed and unpoliced, and Garreth had once remarked that, as with dark matter and the universe, the darknets were probably the bulk of the thing, were there any way to accurately measure them."
And there are good ideas - not so much the fashion stuff for me, but the "Order Flow" is clever and the idea of the hideous T-shirt having an impact on surveillance is wonderful - although both of these ideas are credited to others in the acknowledgements.
Ultimately the book just didn't engage me and I wondered if Gibson was trying to say something about society by deliberately writing in this almost dreamlike manner - if so it went over my head.
I'll probably still buy every novel he writes still, but a fairly disappointing end to a so-so trilogy. Maybe he'll return to SF - I do hope so.
Hollis is a rock singer employed by Bigend to find the designer of an achingly trendy denim brand. Milgrim is a fixer with a mysterious past, involved in shady dealing for Blue Ant and assigned to aid Hollis. The story is told, in alternate chapters, from the viewpoints of these two main protaganists.
In his iconic sprawl novels, Gibson wrote something that was unequivocally science fiction, albeit virtually inventing the sub genre of cyberpunk as he did so. Zero History is barely, if at all, a work of science fiction. His world is very recognisably our own, driven by iPhones, the internet, and twitter, although he writes in the margins of society, where shady power brokers trade real violence in battles for brands and for market position and information.
If that makes this sound like a techno-thriller, it is a long way from the works of Michael Crichton or Tom Clancy. It is more as if Gibson has taken the real world which has evolved in a parallel manner to his cyberpunk vision, and has created a new version of what the semi legal nether world looks like and how it underlies and interfaces with a mainstream market economy.
Although this is barely science fiction, it is closer to Gibson's sprawl trilogy than any of his other novels since. Both are based in the fringes of an interconnected, networked society, the former the fictional cyberspace, the latter what it has in reality become. It is interesting to note that the importance of branding and marketing is the major development which Gibson didn't foresee in the 80's. The street samurai of the Sprawl is re-incarnated as a female despatch rider. At the start of Neuromancer, Gibson set out his stall with his famous simile about the sky over Chiba city, and here his trademark imagery of a man-made environment, is very much in evidence, based, for example, on the colours of urban decay. Bigend is almost a human Wintermute and finally, Zero History ends, like Mona Lisa Overdrive, with a game changing "something big" and it can surely must be a conscious decision that the human catalyst in both cases is called Bobby.
The genre of Zero History is difficult to define. It is more intelligent and less reactionary than a typical techno-thriller. It is too much based on the contemporary world to be science fiction. It could be described as socio-fiction, using an SF style to comment on today's society. Whatever it is, it is an easy reading, fast paced, exciting thriller (of some variety) which makes intelligent observations about where we are today.
It is not entirely successful. Like many of Gibson's later works, it it something of a road movie of a book; the story-telling journey is more interesting than the eventual denouement, which feels somewhat rushed. Also it is one of those novels which would benefit from a cast list at the start. A number of characters make one appearance, disappear for half the book and then re-appear, leaving me thinking "now who was that again?" Or maybe I'm just getting old.
So, I would definitely recommend Zero History as an entertaining and interesting read. It will probably be more palatable to those with an ear tuned to SF, but Gibson is a unique writer with a vision and street smart style which should not be ignored by a wider audience.
But it still gets five stars. I just love his use of language. Even an average Gibson novel is still head and shoulders above almost any other writer, in my opinion.
Plot was thin. Ideas were few.
Rich in detail about the clothes people were wearing. Fascinating...
The only bright point was the "awakening" of the Milgrim character.
A huge disappointment to me anyway.
Definitely try to read these in order. And the Bridge trilogy would be a good accompaniment. The ideas in that series closely match this one.
Zero History takes place in today's London, and, as ever, Gibson's desciptive prose takes you there with him. The plot is interesting and the characters are for the most part fully realised, though one may find reading Spook Country beforehand to gain more information on their various backgrounds helpful. Centering around around a quest to find the mysterious jeanswear designer of the brand named Gabriel Hounds, the story pulls the open minded reader into an interesting character based story of modern day consumer living.