Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Review: "Zero History" by William Gibson

Whew. I just spent three days doing my civic duty by serving on a jury. Three days with almost no internet access! And let me tell you, it was exhausting. (The jury duty, not the lack of internet access, which was kind of refreshing in a way.) What that means is that, while I have some ideas for blog posts, I don't really have the energy to write them. So, instead, you're going to get a book review. I actually wrote this up last week for the blog we maintain at work...yes, that's right: Librarians know how to blog! it doesn't take much effort to repost it!

But first, I have a story to tell mother went to high school with the author of the book, William Gibson. (And now he's famous and very influential in the sci-fi genre! Very cool.) A few years back, when his book "Pattern Recognition" came out, my mother and I went to a book reading/signing in downtown Chicago. She brought her high school yearbook with her, and when we got up to his table for the signing, she put it down in front of him opened to the page he'd signed way back when. His reaction was priceless. He just sort of stared at it, then at her, clearly thinking, "Who are you and how did you GET this?" Whereupon she introduced herself and they chatted a bit...and then he signed, not only copies of his book for me, my mother, and another couple of former classmates with whom my mother is still friends...but the yearbook! Right beside his original signature and a little drawing, he placed a new signature, a new little drawing, and the date. Isn't that cool??


Review: "Zero History" by William Gibson

After finishing a job investigating the rise of underground “locative art” for Hubertus Bigend in Spook Country, former rock star Hollis Henry once again finds herself coming to the attention of the mysterious marketing mogul and head of the trend-forecasting firm Blue Ant. Despite her initial reservations about working for the slightly amoral and driven exec, Hollis gets roped into tracking down the designer of an obscure, highly collectible, and extremely exclusive “secret brand” of clothing, Gabriel Hounds. Bigend is, on the one hand, concerned that the Gabriel Hounds designer is beating him at his own marketing game. On the other hand, the clothing Hounds produces is instantly crave-worthy; all the pieces are well-made, deceptively simple, and completely trend-immune, and Bigend wants to recruit the designer for a project of his own. He’s decided to slip through a legal loophole and into the lucrative business of designing clothing for the American military.

Meanwhile, Bigend has sent another of his employees, the recently-recovered former drug addict Milgrim, on a little industrial espionage trip to check out the competition. Milgrim, who has basically missed most of the last ten years, is one of Bigend’s current favorite projects. For one thing, he wanted to see if an experimental drug rehab project would actually work. For another, Milgrim’s tabula rasa state when it comes to pop culture makes him invaluable to someone like Bigend. However, Milgrim is balanced very carefully on a razor’s edge between complete stability and a slow slide back into his former habits, and his unpredictable nature coupled with the fact that the “competition” he checked out happened to be a former American Special Ops soldier turned arms dealer throw more than a few monkey wrenches into the plans of both Bigend and Hollis.

"Zero History" is fast-paced, edgy, and written in Gibson's characteristically spare, concentrated style. The time period is deliberately vague, though evidently somewhat contemporary. (The characters have iPhones, but not iPads.) Using Milgrim as a lens, Gibson is able to focus all the more clearly on just how strange and frightening it is to be living in the future, and just how common and unremarkable the miraculous has become for most of us. Consequently, the time and place manage to feel both completely familiar and utterly alien and strange for the reader. Highly recommended for those both science fiction and thriller fans looking for something a little bit different than their usual fare.

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