Book review: Count Zero

Count Zero.Count Zero by William Gibson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second of Gibson’s ‘Sprawl trilogy’, and while it exists in the same world as Neuromancer, Count Zero has no compunction about shedding characters from the author’s breakthrough novel. Sure, there’s a couple of familiar faces, but the main players – a back-from-the-dead electro-merc and his target, a disgraced art dealer and her vat-dwelling Howard Hughes-alike boss, and a young-gun hacker – are new, and just as striking as any who’ve come before.

The snapping tension generated by Gibson’s shift of viewpoint between mission operatives in his first novel has flowered here into a tripartite narrative. There’s three stories braiding together through the novel. Obviously, we figure they’ll come together by book’s end, but watching how they intertwine (guided by the tendrils of big industry and family dominance from the first novel) is part of the joy of the read.

While the things we associate with cyberpunk are strong here – floating above canyons of multicoloured data, in search of contraband (possibly while wearing those venetian-shade sunglasses) – something else has taken Gibson’s attention: the ghost in the machine. Neuromancer touched upon the idea of souls in stasis through the introduction of AI co-conspirators, but Count Zero takes the subject to another level with the invocation of vodou.

What’s interesting about Gibson’s take on vodou and its loa is that the line appears blurred about whether it is the real thing, or an AI-induced facsimile. Or, indeed, whether there’s a difference.

His interpretation of the religion is heavily influenced (it seems) by Maya Deren’s excellent Divine Horsemen book and documentary. It’s not a cultural-tourist take on the belief system, and it is treated respectfully – well, more respectfully than in Live and Let Die, I guess. If you’re interested in reading more – and this book does kindle an interest in the subject – you can’t go far wrong with Deren’s observations.

The novel – while undeniably techy – is at heart a thriller in the vein of Robert Ludlum. There’s crosses and double-crosses, caricatured figures covered in enough silicon to suspend disbelief. It’s snappy and thoroughly entertaining, and provides enough reason to keep powering through the series.

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