Friday, 30 May 2014

Book Review: Zero History

English: Portrait of William Gibson in Paris
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It's terrible not to have the time for stuff and I'm increasingly struggling to cram everything in. I suppose the pressure of writing is foremost: when you're 'in the zone' everything becomes subordinate to your own work and the world you're building. When things jam up a little you end up on Twitter and infesting other places where the jobless and marginalised smoke up and drink cups of odiously strong tea. Reading has been relegated to a few minutes in the evening or snatched moments wandering around in a towel. There's no time for that curling up on the sofa stuff.

So it might be my fault entirely that William Gibson's Zero History was a labour of love to get through - I might have been introducing more interstices than any author deserves of a reader. It's the third in the 'Blue Ant' series, preceded by Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. All three books are built around a sort of now, perhaps a few months into our future at the time of writing but now, of course, a couple of years into the past. The drones featured in Zero History would have been very cutting edge and funky in 2010, when it was first published. Now they're more 'meh'...

Funny that Gibson's Neuromancer remains so startlingly futuristic and Zero History feels a little dated.

Ex rock star Hollis Henry and ex drug addict Milgrim are sent on missions to discover fashion coolness by multi squillionaire agency head and cool addict Hubertus Bigend. Bigend is interested in how military clothing achieves coolness in a circular relationship that injects street coolness back into military wear. Or something like that. He's saved Milgrim from his existentially threatening addiction only to make the man his tool - an echo, in fact, of the plot of Neuromancer and I did feel several times that Zero History was a cookie-cut of the Neuromancer arc.

Zero History lacks some of the flashes of descriptive brilliance that mark Gibson's earlier work. It doesn't come across as fresh and impelled, it doesn't compel the reader as much and meanders a lot. There are lots of blind alleys, scenes that don't actually seem to take us somewhere. The coolness becomes wearing, pressing down on you. Oh this is so cool, that's such a concept, this hotel/club is funky beyond even sehr funklich. Hollis' boyfriend, a cool military type, BASE jumps off the Burj Khalifa and I have to resist the urge to purge the whole damn book from my Kindle. The cause, the mission impelling the characters to their climax, seems rather, well, marginal. At the same time, there's a lot to love. The drug-autistic Milgrim, always somehow feeling a little two-dimensional, falls in love with Bigend's despatch rider and you find yourself rooting for him to get to root her. Bigend's a twat, but then when you've worked with Bigend types you'll maybe have less sympathy for that overwhelming control freak millionaire mentality.

An interesting read and a book that had me standing on occasion towel-wrapped and dripping onto the tiles as I tried to hold out to the end of the scene. And a book that lay on the bedside table for days, unloved as I read other stuff more immediately interesting (given the novel I'm working on, I'm spending a lot of time on the history of the IRA and the Irish Troubles). Not the book I'd recommend as a first Gibson novel. That remains, through all the years, Neuromancer.
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