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Bookmarks Issue: 
49-Nov-Dec-2010
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A-Zero HistoryCelebrated novelist William Gibson explores post-9/11 consumer culture, among many other things, in the final installment of his informal trilogy featuring megalomaniacal Belgian billionaire Hubertus Bigend. His story began with Pattern Recognition (2003) and continued in Spook Country (3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2007).

The Story: Determined to muscle his way into the "essentially recession-proof" business of military contracting, megarich marketing mogul Hubertus Bigend enjoins Milgrim, an ex-junkie whose recovery Bigend bankrolled, to get his hands on a rogue contractor's top secret plans for combat gear. He also hires former rock star Hollis Henry, reluctant but broke after the stock market crash, to track down a mysterious fashion designer whose brilliant antimarketing strategies have caused the popularity of his clothing line to skyrocket. When these investigations converge, Milgrim, Henry, and Bigend find themselves pitted against the Department of Defense and a ruthless business rival who will stop at nothing to get to the information first.
Putnam. 416 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780399156823

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Zero History is easily the funniest of Gibson's novels. There's much less darkness to it and a more explicit sense of wonder. ... The final hundred pages becomes a wee bit mechanical--a caper, really, like a London Ocean's 11, with Hollis's boyfriend, Garreth, in the George Clooney role." Mark Feeney

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"William Gibson again herds wildly disparate ideas and unlikely characters through a narrative that wends its way along the borders between the real and the surreal. ... Zero History has the feel of a last book in a trilogy; Gibson neatly wraps up not only the fates and fortunes of the protagonists but also those of many supporting characters, including some from the earlier books." John Williford

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel stands alone, although there are good reasons to read Pattern Recognition and Spook Country first. ... To read Gibson is to read the present as if it were the future, because it seems the present is becoming the future faster than it is becoming the past." Scarlett Thomas

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"In typical Gibson fashion, the tension builds incrementally through 87 well-plotted chapters of disorienting strangeness." Vernon Peterson

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[I]f the plot seems a tad weightless at times (and not just because of floating penguins), the book proves momentous in other ways. ... His trenchant scrutiny of society and culture, and the relentless precision of his prose force us to see his world (and ours) with a troubling exactitude and an extra dose of unease." Art Taylor

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Like its immediate predecessor, Spook Country, this new adventure doesn't offer quite the same shock of the new as Pattern Recognition, nor characters as compelling as ‘cool-hunter' Cayce Pollard--though the author tells me that she haunts this book in some ways. But for those who glory in the circuitous patois of Gibsonian dialogue, the electrical noir of the book's locales and the Machiavellian menace of Hubertus Bigend, this world's worrying puppet master, the plunge down the rabbit hole is just as dizzying." Clayton Moore

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Bigend is a bit over-the-top in what's otherwise a pretty believable world. ... But what makes Zero History work is that Gibson's radar is deftly tuned to the changes in the culture that many of us are missing." Chris Foran

Critical Summary

"Another smartly scouted roadmap of alternate routes through today's global culture," applauded the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the other critics agreed. Gibson leads readers on a wild adventure that encompasses fashion, the military-industrial complex, viral marketing, behavioral anthropology, addiction, and even base jumping, weaving all of these distinctive threads into a satisfyingly cohesive whole. A couple reviewers cited some implausible plot twists and exaggerated characters, but most praised Gibson's increased focus on his characters, his razor-sharp prose, and his incisive observations on modern culture. Hailed as the funniest and lightest of Gibson's books to date, Zero History stands well alone, but readers already familiar with the series' previous titles will find this last installment much more rewarding.

First in the Series

Pattern Recognition (2003): 4 of 5 Stars Selection May/June 2003. Hubertus Bigend hires market researcher and "cool hunter" Cayce Pollard to locate the secretive filmmaker responsible for some viral video clips anonymously posted on the Web--a search that will lead her from London to Japan, Russia, and mortal danger.