Since Neuromancer was first published in 1984, William Gibson has been a sci-fi figurehead in literature, helping to create the modern subgenre of cyberpunk. His past few works however, have drifted away from straight science fiction, being more about the underbelly of the modern world. Zero History is no exception.
The third Gibson book to feature the mysterious Hubertus Bigend and his even more mysterious company Blue Ant, Zero History starts out, innocently enough, with a pair of pants. However, from there it spins out of control into a dangerous face-off between private contractors, mercenaries, freerunners, corporate spies, and the surprisingly shadowy sides of viral marketing and clothing brands.
Former musician-turned-freelancer Hollis Henry and recovering addict Milgrim, both introduced in Spooky Country, return, on the trail of a unique denim brand for Bigend, a brand he wants in order to try to cash in on the weird but lucrative market for military uniforms and the civilian military-surplus clothing market.
Hollis sword she’d never world for Bigend again, though the lure of being able to pay her bills and the mystery of a “hidden brand” was enough to get her to go along. Milgrim, a prescription tranquilizer addict who owes his sobriety and newfound keen observation skills to an experimental clinic Bigend knew of, is the Blue Ant CEO’s pet project of a new agent. Combined with a few different new and old friends, they might just be able to help keep a few bad apples make life difficult for everyone.
It sounds bizarre, but Gibson manages to craft a totally unique pop culture espionage novel, taking all the elements that made his science fiction stand out and applying them to the world of today, of right now. He’s more interested in seeing what’s available today to play with rather than the predictive and imaginary nature of the world of the future.
Gibson’s trademark literary style and analysis of the powerful magic of brand names and subcultures is going strong in this latest work, themes that he’s been touching on since his first literary forays. It’s a unique marker of his writing voice, part of his gift for creating fascinating characters and unique stories that are out of this world, while at the same time being utterly familiar in terms of places and times.
Zero History is a stunning thriller that manages to stand on its own even to those unfamiliar with Gibson’s previous works. It’s an adventure for the post-Internet and post-iPhone world, an adventure that takes you to the strangest places and has you meeting the strangest people.