Count Zero by William Gibson
Published: Gollancz, 1986
Series: Book 2 of the Sprawl Trilogy
Awards Nominated: British Science Fiction Association, Hugo, Nebula. Locus Science Fiction
“Three unconnected strangers are each ripped out of their daily life by a job that turns out to hold much more complexity than meets the eye.
The mercenary Turner, who specializes in helping important people defect from one multinational corporation to another, has just finished recovering from the reconstruction of his severely damaged body. He finds himself pulled back into what looks like just another defection security job.
The disgraced, out-of-work art dealer Marly Krushkova is mysteriously selected by the incredibly wealthy Josef Virek to hunt down the artist behind the creation of a series of Joseph Cornell style boxes.
The inexperienced hacker Bobby Newmark, also known as “Count Zero Interrupt” eagerly takes what he’s told will be an easy job for an amateur hacker—only to find himself nearly killed.
Their three stories slowly converge, as each of their seemingly straightforward tasks catapults them into situations that are more complicated and dangerous than they could ever have expected.” ~Allie
Count Zero follows the highly regarded novel Neuromancer. While it takes place in the same universe, there is little continuity in plot or characters. I think it would be best to read Neuromancer first (I did so, years ago), but Count Zero stands on its own as a novel.
William Gibson definitely has a very distinctive style, and I enjoyed the grungy, high-tech future he describes. Gibson’s style of writing evokes the state of mind of his characters at any given point, despite the fact that their stories are written from a 3rd person perspective. Gibson’s descriptions of locations in orbit and North America were filled with a sense of decay and disorder, though his descriptions of Europe (specifically Paris) did not really feel very fundamentally different from modern-day Paris to me. He also combines mysticism (in this case Haitian voodoo deities) with high technology (AIs and hackers) to interesting effect. Some aspects of his future do seem a bit dated, but, considering that this was written in 1986, I think that is to be expected.
The characters did not interest me quite as much as the ideas and the setting. For one thing, two of main characters, Turner and Marly, kind of felt like stereotypes of masculinity and femininity, respectively. For instance, Turner is introduced with explosions, casual violence, and loads of justified paranoia and posturing. Marly, on the other hand, is introduced amid shopping trips, chatting with her female friend, and dealing with emotional fallout from her treacherous, poisonous ex-boyfriend. I’m sure that there are perfectly decent people who fit parts of these stereotypes, but Turner and Marly didn’t seem to have all that much depth past their initial characterization. For me, it made it really difficult to relate to either of them.
Bobby Newmark, the “Count Zero” of the title, was the most interesting character to me. Unlike the other two, he is not really an expert in anything, and he is in way over his head. I was impressed with his resiliency, and with the way he constantly tried to make sense of and fit in with the bizarre new culture he’d been thrust into. He seems aware that people often see him as an idiot or a screw-up, but he doesn’t let that get him down. Out of the three main characters, I was most interested in the journey of Bobby Newmark.
Gibson initially presents these three main characters separately, each with their own seemingly unrelated plot. As is usually the case when an author introduces multiple plotlines, the stories eventually come together, more or less. However, I didn’t get much of a sense of how the three stories might fit together until about midway through the book, so the three narratives seemed to move very slowly during the first half. The actual merging of the stories only really got under way much later, though the pace seemed to pick up dramatically as it happened. Though some of the events that led to the combining of the three stories felt a little contrived, I was pretty satisfied with how everything fit together in the end.
My Rating: 3.5/5
While it might not be the game changer of Neuromancer, Count Zero delivers an entertaining cyberpunk story. I enjoyed the descriptions of the grungy, ruined future communities, and Gibson’s style of prose is very expressive of the states of mind of his main characters. The story follows three characters with their own plotlines, which slowly come together toward the end. The characters were something of a weak point, in my opinion, and Marly and Turner in particular felt almost like stereotypical representations of gender. I was much more interested in Bobby Newmark (“Count Zero”), mostly because I enjoyed his persistence and self-conscious cockiness in the face of a situation he didn’t understand. The merging of the three stories came a little too late in the novel for me, and some of the plot points that drove that merging seemed a little artificial. Altogether, though, I thought the conclusion was coherent and satisfying.