On the Bookshelf: Zero History by William Gibson
Zero History is the third book of an interconnected trilogy that includes Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. The connection, however, is tenuous, stemming mostly from the character of Hubertus Bigend, who in the first two books arguably plays a tertiary / tangential role. His role in Zero History is larger, but he still doesn’t have a viewpoint in the story. That falls to the two protagonists from Spook Country, the former rock-guitarist turned writer Hollis Henry, and the Russian speaking drug-addict Milgrim.
To be completely honest, I didn’t like Spook Country all that very much, while I thought Pattern Recognition was outstanding. The two books, except for Bigend, had no relationship to each other. They explored different concepts, they had vastly different characters with different motivations. They even took place in different parts of the world. Based on the viewpoint characters, Zero History should really be the sequel to Spook Country rather than the third book of a trilogy, but without giving too much away, Gibson manages to tie all three books together in a very satisfying way.
As far as the nuts-and-bolts of the story goes, Gibson is at his descriptive best, creating the atmosphere of an arcane world where the surreal and strange is hidden seamlessly among the mundane. In Zero History the current focus of Bigend’s Blue Ant Agency is the garment industry, specifically designing and contracting to produce military clothing for the U. S. Armed Forces which interests Bigend because it is recession-proof, and has a viral / trickle-down influence on fashion trends that Bigend finds intriguing and potentially profitable. He enlists the help of Milgrim after putting him through a very involved treatment to cure his drug addiction at an exclusive clinic. Throughout the book Bigend treats Milgrim as a pet project, finding him interesting and useful because he notices the ordinary, obscure yet somehow important details that others routinely overlook. Personally, I think Milgrim is the best part of the book. He is the character that developed the most from Spook Country to Zero History. Hollis Henry, as well as her band mates, returns as well. She is convinced, her need to earn a paycheck winning out against her own better judgement, to work for Blue Ant again as a freelancer to track down a mysterious secret clothing line called Gabriel Hounds. Bigend is interested in Hounds because it seems to have some sort of bearing on his current project, and that its marketing strategies might as well have come from his own playbook, creating demand through exclusivity, secrecy, scarcity and quality. All of this gets caught up with corporate espionage, kidnapping, a Defense Department investigation, black-ops operators, London, animal-shaped drones and an arms-dealer trying to go legit who sees Blue Ant as unwelcome competition. It is a great can’t-put-it-down motorcycle-courier ride of a story.
The following section contains spoilers. If you want to read it, rot13 it.
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Neuromancer is still my favorite William Gibson book. In fact, it ranks among my top ten all-time favorites. With Zero History, the Bigend trilogy easily becomes my favorite Gibson trilogy. It is a truly amazing and outstanding book with a great plot and an ending that is satisfying while still remaining open to the possibilities of the future. My recommendation is to immediately add it to your Amazon queue and move it from the anti-library to your library as soon as possible.
An end note for some of my 5GW blogfriends (and I wish I could link to the original discussion at Phatic Communion) Archive link is here! H/T Curtis):
The term “Jack Move” makes a reappearance.
From Pattern Recognition:
“Jack moves. Context, with Donny, seemed to indicate that these were either deliberate but extremely lateral, thus taking the competition by surprise, or, more likely in Donny’s case, simply crazy, same result. He’d never said what jack move, exactly, in a given situation, he was contemplating, and maybe that was because he didn’t know. maybe it had to be improvisational and completely of the moment.”
From Zero History, in a Twitter exchange:
“Borrowed laptop. Lost Phone” He hesitated. “I think Sleight was tracking me with it.”
“Got rid of it.”
He had to think about that. “S was telling follower where I was.”
“Tired of it.”
“No jack moves OK? B cool”
It really doesn’t clear up the meaning of the phrase as Gibson intended it. A jack move could still be something impulsive, something completely lateral and unexpected, or just something really crazy or stupid. It caught my eye though. In a sense, perhaps in all of the senses above, getting rid of the phone in the manner Milgrim chose was a “jack move” in itself, as it precipitated a great deal of the plot. Kind of an interesting side-point. Maybe if somebody gets to talk to Gibson in the future they could bring it into a discussion. It is completely beside the point of the novel and may well be a waste of the author’s time and the opportunity to ask a question, but if there is anything to it I’d love to hear the answer.