Monday, 23 January 2012

Curled Up Next to the Fire: Zero History

I've decided to do something a "literature" segment, which is going to be called "Curled Up Next to the Fire". Somewhat obviously. The reason for this - it's a nice image, being curled up next to the fire on a cold winter's night, reading a good book. Though I may have to change the segment's name come the summer.

So. The first segment. And the first book is Zero History by William Gibson. Now I'm a big fan of Gibson, having first read Neuromancer in 2007 in attempt to bolster my literary credentials before going to university. Well, my sci-fi literary credentials, which apparently aren't much credentials, but that's a gripe for another blog. Today, it is time to reflect on Zero History and how thoroughly I enjoyed it.

And I did. Enjoy it. Thoroughly. Once again, Gibson has proved himself able to weave a beautifully bizarre narrative within the bounds of our universe. For those uninitiated, Zero History is the third (and final) book in the Bigend Trilogy, Gibson's third trilogy of books. Unlike his previous trilogies, the Sprawl and the Bridge, the Bigend Trilogy takes place our timeline - the first book, Pattern Recognition, features a subplot about the main character's father and his disappearance in New York on 9/11. Zero History, published in 2010, makes some mentions of the growing economic discord in the Western world. But that's not the main thrust. Nope, the hunt for the designer of a mysterious, "secret brand" clothing is.

This, for me, makes it beautiful. I know nothing of the world of fashion, nothing about "secret brands", but this search for a secret brand, the weird and wonderful collection of characters (most notably the trilogy's namesake, Hubertus Bigend), was an extremely compelling read. And it only took me until my ninth Gibson novel to figure out one of the twists - and given that, as a writer, I sometimes find it too easy to predict these things because I think "Hey, that's what I'd do" - so that's an achievement. And even then, having essentially figured it out, I still thoroughly enjoyed the reveal, though I imagine it was mostly for the gratification of being proven right.

But anyway. Zero History. Wonderful book, once again proving Gibson's undeniable skills at turning worlds we know into something just a little different, a little weirder. In the book, there are several mentions of pieces of tech that quite probably exist. But the way Gibson describes them, the way he uses them, they all just seem a little bit out of this world.

Then, his characters. Zero History, like its predecessor Spook Country, features Hollis Henry as its main character, joined by Milgrim, one of Gibson's more mysterious creations - two books he's been in and I still haven't 100% figured him out. But I kind of like it that way. Rather than tell us every detail of Milgrim from his beginning to where he is, we are given the sense of the man in the moment. A compelling character who seems to live entirely in the present, where his counterpart, Hollis Henry, occupies a different angle - she's the investigator, with the developed past that she occasionally reflects upon.

Now I'm not sure what more to say without giving too much away, so I'll try and wrap things up here. Zero History was a fantastic book - compelling characters, bizarre and engrossing storyline, all wrapped up in our world that just doesn't feel like it entirely is our world, but inescapably is. And if that last thought made any sense, I'd imagine someone's missing the point entirely. Probably me.

Anyhow, that's it for the first instalment of Curled Up Next to the Fire. I've now started on The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov, so I imagine that'll be the next segment, but not necessarily my next random rambling. So watch this space ;)

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