Zero History Hardcover – Sept. 7 2010
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- Item Weight : 612 g
- Hardcover : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0399156828
- ISBN-13 : 978-0399156823
- Dimensions : 15.88 x 3.81 x 23.5 cm
- Publisher : G.P. Putnam's Sons; 1st Edition (Sept. 7 2010)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #527,224 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Quill & Quire
Starting with 2003’s Pattern Recognition, famed science-fiction author William Gibson has been taking apart the techno-thriller and putting the pieces back together in new and interesting ways. Pattern Recognition (for my money, Gibson’s best book to date) was an unusually personal, character-driven novel; its first sequel, 2007’s Spook Country, lacked the necessary thrills. With Zero History, Gibson has hit the sweet spot.
On the surface, Zero History looks much like those previous two books. Marketing magnate Hubertus Bigend hires people with a specialized kind of intuition – in this case, former rock star and occasional journalist Hollis Henry and recovering addict Milgrim (both of whom appeared in Spook Country) – to uncover information about a “secret” brand of clothing called Gabriel Hounds. This premise opens the door for all the flashy techno-thriller contrivances: surveillance, bleeding-edge technology, military contracts, fisticuffs, even some gunplay. The pace is fast, and every chapter brings a new twist or startling revelation.
But Zero History is more than just flash, and the Gabriel Hounds brand isn’t merely a MacGuffin used to jump-start the plot. Rather, it’s an excuse for Gibson to explore what really interests him: how we read and react to the semiotics of everyday objects and relationships. Whether it’s advertising, the stitching in trousers, breakfast cuisine, or automobile security systems, Gibson is constantly pitting the perceptions and opinions of characters with expert knowledge against Hollis Henry’s countercultural intuition and Milgrim’s chemically induced naïveté. The clash of these different viewpoints results in a true and authentic-feeling vision of the here and now. Gibson’s writing is richly textured, dense with information but never intrusively so.
Despite having used the same basic plot structure a few times already, and notwithstanding his obsessive attention to detail, Gibson allows himself enough elbow room for some of the most fully developed characters and the best dialogue he has created to date. While not quite his strongest novel, Zero History is a serious contender for number two.
"A standout thriller and vital introduction to Gibson's trademark style." --The Globe and Mail
"Is it odd that a novel about a jean outfit is the finest Gibson novel in recent memory? Not in the slightest. Gibson [merges] a crackling thriller with cutting-edge social commentary, a subtle sense of satire and, surprisingly, not one, but two, love stories." --Victoria Times Colonist
"One of the most visionary, original, and quietly influential writers currently working." --The Boston Globe
"His eye for the eerie in the everyday still lends events an otherworldly sheen." --The New Yorker
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Top reviews from Canada
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Gibson turns a phrase like few authors I know. He makes you see the world through his lens and it is so amazing you almost feel like it's real. Could Bigend really know that much of the future? What could you do with that kind of power? Perhaps we'll see.
Top reviews from other countries
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.