Review: Count Zero by William Gibson

In the Matrix of cyberspace, angels and voodoo zaibatsus fight it out for world domination and computer cowboys like Turner and Count Zero risk their minds for fat crumbs. Turner woke up in a new body with a beautiful woman beside him. They let him recuperate for a while in Mexico, then Hosaka reactivated his memory for a mission more dangerous than the one that nearly killed him. The head designer from Maas-Biolabs is defecting to Hosaka, or so he says. Turner has to deliver him safely, and the biochips he invented — which are of supreme interest to other parties, some of whom are not human. Count Zero is human. Indeed, he’s just a kid from Barrytown, and totally unprepared for the heavy duty data coming his way when he’s caught up in the cyberspace war triggered by the defection. With voodoo on the Net and angels in the software, he can only hope that the megacorps and the superrich have their virtual hands full already.

Review

Count Zero is the second book in a trilogy which begins, somewhat tangentially, with the recently reviewed Neuromancer. The events of Neuromancer are only mentioned in passing however and for Count Zero at least, not required knowledge. While events in Count Zero and Neuromancer both culminate in the final book of the trilogy, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Neuromancer and Count Zero could almost be stand-alone books.

Culturally speaking, Count Zero never had the same impact on our psyches as its big brother. To be fair though, there are very, very few things per generation that actually have as much far reaching impact as Neruomancer did.

Count Zero goes focuses more the corporations and their machinations in a story that will still resonate with audiences today. Maas-Neotek has developed a new kind of combined software and hardware, one that will redefine the human paradigm and alleviate the need for biomechanical augmentation. Biosofts, as they are known, can be grown in a form know as biochips which can be run like normal programs, but are far, far more complex in operation and deep in scope. Similarly, the biosofts can be grown inside a person, permanently altering their knowledge, memories, and even psyches.

Biosofts are the hottest new thing on the market, and no one but Maas knows how to make them. This is a situation that the other corporations cannot tolerate or allow to continue. Hosaka, one such rival company hires Turner – an extraction specialist – to remedy the situation by retrieving Maas’ top scientist and bring him in to their fold. Needless to say, things don’t go quite according to plan.

The story is one that should sound at least vaguely familiar and disturbing to readers. It is something of a cautionary tale; already today companies have a large degree of control over governments and the laws that are enacted upon citizens, in some countries at least. Something like the events in Count Zero could occur with lax or absent oversight; technology going too far, people making deals they really shouldn’t be making, and companies waging war on each other and the population in order to get the biggest slice of the profits. Some of that already sounds disturbingly close to reality, doesn’t it?

At the same time, strange things are going on in the Matrix. Disruptions, shifts and apparitions are appearing all over the place. The best anyone can figure, it all started at about the time that villa in Freeside was hacked by independent operators. No one can comprehend what these changes mean, or to what ultimate end they will culminate.

Meanwhile, an art dealer searches for the artist who creates beautiful and hauntingly simplistic boxes at the behest of the richest man in the world. The art dealer, Marley, will go further than she ever imagined going in the quest to find the artist and discover their techniques and motivation. Of course, others are also after the source of the boxes for their own purposes, and Marly must try and outwit them and get to the artist first.

In terms of writing, William Gibson’s signature hypnotic style is in full force. If you have ever read any of Gibson’s other works, you will be familiar with the phenomenon. His style of writing is generally wistful and mellow, even in the midst of brutal action. His focus on listing contents of the environment also add to the effect, until the reader almost feels as if they are floating through the story rather than reading it. As is expected of a cyberpunk novel, the story is somewhat convoluted, with betrayals, false alliances, shadowy conspiracies and traitors at every turn.

Thematically, Count Zero has a lot in common with another second book in a trilogy also by Gibson; Spook Country. Many of the elements which exist in one are also present in the other. The most obvious of these is the presence of art and wealth. Other parallel themes include the presence of the Loa, corporate and governmental scheming and of course, the obligatory conspiracies and backstabbing. In one sense, it seems that the books are twins separated only by time and context.

Count Zero is not a bad book. In fact, it is quite a good one when viewed on its own. Ultimately though, it is overshadowed by both its predecessor and successor, and suffers from the age old curse of being in the middle of a trilogy. Gibson tries valiantly to make Count Zero interesting and worthwhile, and certainly does so to some degree, but when approaching the book, it is hard to see its relevance in the overall scheme, and therefore much harder to appreciate at the time of reading.

None the less, there are few authors who can do truly great and cryptic cyberpunk, and if that is the way your tastes lie, reading this William Gibson book surely can’t hurt.

  • Genre: Cyberpunk-Science Fiction-Speculative Fiction
  • Demographic: Adult
  • Rating Out of Five: 3
  • Format: Paperback
  • Find At: The Book Depository
  • Published: January 1986

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