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Zero History Hardcover – September 7, 2010
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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.