This is the second book in the Bigend Trilogy, following the superb Pattern Recognition. Once again, Hubertus Bigend is looking for something. Our protagonist Hollis Henry is a former rock star who ends up entangled in a weird scheme to deter the laundering of money destined for Iraq.
As usual, Gibson knows how to construct a sentence, a paragraph, and a chapter in a flamboyantly artistic fashion that both dazzles and explains perfectly what is going on. Descriptions of places, things, actions and people are all finely balanced and constructed with the obsessive care that is the author’s trademark. The prose is simply breathtaking.
Pity about the plot, then. Nothing really happens as the characters chase after the initially mysterious but, after its revelation, rather pedestrian MacGuffin. The conclusion left me with a “so what?” feeling. The story was rather slow and plodding and the ending left me indifferent.
This is the last book in the Bigend Trilogy, and thus sequel to Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. While I loved the former and thought the latter was pretty good, I found Zero History to be a total yawner. We follow once again the odd adventures of Hollis Mason and Milgrim as they chase down obscure pop culture details for Hubertus Bigend.
It’s all very cool and trendy, with the excellent cutting edge prose that is Gibson’s trademark. Unfortunately it is also very soulless and uninteresting. Taken individually, the scenes in this book are splendid. Elaborately crafted little vignettes, meticulously describing a setting and the actors inside it. As a narrative, I felt it didn’t seem to go anywhere. This is the first Gibson book I have actively disliked. I gave up about halfway through since I honestly couldn’t work up the least motivation to pick the book up again.
Gibson is not what you would call a prolific writer. Every now and then something dribbles out. The works are generally short, although the ultradesigned packaging can fool you into thinking otherwise. I am a huge fan of Neuromancer and his other early works. Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrows Parties were all good, but it felt like he was just showing off and not really putting his heart into the thing. Pattern recognition is much much better.
The story starts in London where our heroine has to deal with the peculiar and uniquely retro British way of constructing household appliances and home furnishings in general. The novel is quite simply put one of the best I have ever read. The elegance of Gibson’s inventive and very modern prose takes us into a world of branding and a mysterious body of footage which has spawned it’s own subculture. The heroine, Cayce Pollard (in-joke for Gibson fans is the way her first name is pronounced “Case”) is very likeable in her imperfections and phobias. The descriptions are flawless as we follow the action exclusively from her point of view.
Her friends are the colorful protagonists of the world in which we ourselves live. A world of global powermongers seeking influence, but not by the unfashionable means of violence. These persons, in Gibson’s trademark way only glimpsed from somewhere further down the food chain, are postmodern creatures, influencing without revealing themselves. Cayce herself has friends in many places, and like many of us now living in ***cliché warning*** an increasingly global society, we communicate via email for close friends, as well as chatrooms and message boards where we can easily find likeminded people, people who share a common interest. Larry Niven talked about how, in a society with instantaneous, cheap transportation, social clubs became increasingly important when men and women needed to anchor their lives socially as geographical roots became blurred. In the same way, Gibson explores how, with internet technologies it is quite possible, indeed necessary, today to be far from friends, but still very close.
So, a “lifestyle” piece from Gibson which absolutely fascinated me and sucked me in like few other books have. Cyberpunk, having been invented by Gibson himself way back in 1984, is alive and well as the most cutting edge way to be a spectator to our own world.
Gibson invented the cyberpunk subgenre with this plot-wise loosely connected series of books and he revitalized SciFi in the process. His sparse, cool prose and his approach to characterization mark the writing of many of his successors, probably chief among those Neal Stephenson.
His descriptions of cyberculture have aged well, since he was wise enough not to be too specific about hardware and software. He himself attributes this to the fact that he had never owned a computer at the time, although that is, in typical Gibson fashion, probably far too modest a justification. Another interesting fact is that these novels were written in the mid eighties, but illustrate many of the advances in computer technology which scientists and engineers are striving towards today in 2010. Whether his ideas on man-machine interfaces are simply the result of some very good thinking, and whether he inspired a generations of computer wiz kids is, of course, open to debate.
His work remains one of the pinnacles of SciFi, and his ability to distill the essence of something into a single, cool sentence remains, perhaps, unrivaled.