Friday, October 15, 2010

Zero History

More thriller than SF, Zero History is set mainly in London. It's not the latest Ono-Sendai cyberdeck that's being sought, but a particular kind of denim and a designer who markets her clothing in secret.

The narrative alternates between two characters last seen in Gibson's previous novel, Spook Country -- Milgrim, a recovering drug-addict, and Hollis Henry, formerly of the cult band The Curfew. They are now working for Hubertus Bigend and Blue Ant, two unifying threads in the trilogy.

Gibson's fine prose propels the story along magnificently until about two-thirds of the way through when Hollis's boyfriend, Garreth, rides in on his wheelchair. Although he likes jumping off very tall buildings, he is far less interesting than Hollis. His presence dilutes her role somewhat, and the ending he orchestrates is a little underwhelming.

Still, Gibson slides in a couple of pleasant surprises which nicely tie together the three books. These surprises are a reward, or Easter egg, for those who have read Pattern Recognition.

Best of all is the prose, a cutting-edge combo of clipped sentences and ornate descriptions, infused with with brand names and technological gadgetry. Even when Gibson writes about the present, it sounds like SF.

At just over 400 pages, this is his longest book yet, and good value for your money.

Misc. Observations

Gibson's always had strong female characters. Here, in addition to Hollis, there's a dispatch rider named Fiona, and Hollis's former bandmate and drummer, the foulmouthed Heidi Hyde, who likes nothing better than a good dust-up.

Gibson has a good ear for names. In this book: Oliver Sleight (Bigend's IT specialist), Michael Preston Gracie (rogue arms dealer), Winnie Tung Whitaker (DCIS special agent), Olduvai George (keyboardist), and Bobby Chombo (unpleasant Canadian hacker who appeared in Spook Country).

Some techy stuff: rattan bone, ekranoplan, darknets, RFIDs in US passports, using a Taser to disable a LAN.

And listen to this for Gibson's keen powers of observation:

Some very considerable part of the gestural language of public places, that had once belonged to cigarettes, now belonged to phones.

At the end Gibson not only thanks SF writers Jack Womack, Paul MacAuley, Cory Doctorow, and Bruce Sterling, but also fellow Vancouverite Douglas Coupland.