William Gibson's ZERO HISTORY is the third book of a trilogy detailing the events in the life of Hubertus Bigend and his ad agency, Blue Ant. PATTERN RECOGNITION dealt with anonymous film clips on the Internet, while SPOOK COUNTRY centered on the hunt for a shipping container with unknown contents. The new novel continues this drive to acquire by focusing on pants. That's right. Pants.
"A peculiar but fascinating book told in the typical Gibson style. This means, of course, that it is strange...and ultimately brilliantly played."
ZERO HISTORY is a peculiar but fascinating book told in the typical Gibson style. This means, of course, that it is strange, sometimes disorienting to the point of confusion, and ultimately brilliantly played. Much like a marathon runner, Gibson is a master of pace, doling out just enough tension in each chapter to keep pressing things along and keep the hook in your mouth. Returning with Bigend in this adventure are Milgrim, a recovering addict, and Hollis Henry, a former rock-and-roll star turned journalist. The two of them are thrust together by Bigend on a quest for the designer behind a scarce clothing brand known as Gabriel Hounds. They're not the only ones interested in the Hounds, however, and are constantly at odds with a rival named Michael Gracie.
Bigend is determined to unmask the designer of the Hounds denim line because of "secret branding," a marketing technique that he himself created whereby the manner in which one obtains a desired item is kept secret from the public at large. Whomever has taken up his "secret branding" in order to drive interest in Gabriel Hounds has done so without knowing just how far Bigend will go to stop them. At the same time, Bigend, ever the capitalist, is seeking a way to acquire a top-secret sewing pattern from the US military. In doing so, he can hijack the design and convert it to popular streetwear. And what better way to drive up the level of military volunteers than to make their clothing fashionable?
ZERO HISTORY is set in the now, though it still seems so strangely futuristic. Globalization and capitalism rule, and Gibson provides perceptive snapshots of our current lives as the drive for brand exclusivity and the desire for the next great collectible propel us onward. Bigend, the supreme millionaire capitalist of the story, ultimately doesn’t seek a monetary gain. His interest is in riding the forefront of innovations and creating the next "need" that will have the world scrambling.
It is related in the book that Zero History refers to a man having no past, Milgrim specifically, and he is easily the most intriguing soul of the bunch. Nothing about him can be traced; he is a blank slate of history. Actually, this works out rather well in the sense that you don’t have to read the first two books to have any understanding of ZERO HISTORY. You need only sit back and be reminded just how detached we've become in an age of cell phones, the Internet, and the constant digital connection.
Reviewed by Stephen Hubbard on January 24, 2011