March 1, 2011
Zero History - William Gibson
Zero History is the first book by William Gibson that doesn't feel futuristic. Pattern Recognition and Spook Country felt one minute in the future, only just there, but still Science Fiction, still foreign. Zero History feels like it's several months in the past, and, being set in London, not foreign at all.
Maybe it's the fact that I don't really like London and so instead of revelling in Gibson's joy of the oddities of the city to an American I was instead imagining the dull, grey reality, the grubby Victorian buildings and the dreary endless urban sprawl. Not at all filled with the wonder of The Sprawl in Neuromancer.
Maybe it's the fact that it feels like I've read all of the ideas on the internet six months ago: the flying penguin drones, the dazzle paint, the endless cool-hunting. There doesn't seem to be anything new, no imagination just a magpie collections of Boing Boing oddities wrapped up in a thin plot.
Without the cool future feel, that has seemed to be ever present in Gibson's books so far, the plot is more exposed and revealed to be limp and lifeless. Essentially the entire plot revolves around one business man trying to win a contract to manufacture military clothes, and the search for a mystery designer to help in that quest. The perilous world of fashion. Really? It left me cold. The last section of the novel picks up with some action but only with the injection of a character who literally turns up from nowhere, "Hello, I am the action, pleased to meet you." I just didn't care about the plot, didn't feel the peril. I'm sad to say that it left me cold and bored.
In Gibson's books with a less than zippy plot (for example Pattern Recognition and Spook Country) the futuristic feel and the great writing has more than made up for it. Zero History let me down with the plot and SF-ness and probably consequently I also felt let down by the writing. Instead of revelling in the descriptions and the language I was irritated by the repetition of locations and the lingering glances at London.
This time William Gibson really hasn't written Science Fiction, and the novel is all the worse for it. I feel quite sad.