Zero History by William Gibson

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Zero History by William Gibson

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: Zero History is the third of Gibson's books to feature the Blue Ant ad agency and continues to explore issues of branding, marketing, technology and cutting edge cool in a fast moving and entertaining thriller.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Viking
ISBN: 978-0670919529

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It's almost obligatory when writing anything about William Gibson to recall that in an earlier short story, he invented the term 'cyberspace'. Gibson remains at the cutting edge of what is 'cool'. Like most of his books, Zero History is a thriller, but at its core are issues surrounding technology, how we interact with it, branding and marketing. It would be easy to criticise much of his content as being too shallow and concerned with 'nothing' - but then that's part of his point.

Gibson also has a history of writing in trilogies - and this is indeed the third of his books to deal with the mysterious Blue Ant ad agency run by the gloriously named Hubertus Bigend. But equally, it stands perfectly on its own and no prior familiarity is required with the other two books (Pattern Recognition and Spook Country).

Although set firmly in the present, Gibson writes about cutting edge issues that give his books an almost science fiction feel, and if you are a fan of some of the lighter sci fi genre, then you will find much to enjoy here. There are plenty of gadgets and no small amount of humour.

At the heart of this thriller is a subject that is, at first, unexpected; namely a secret brand of denim jeans, known as The Gabriel Hounds. This is what Bigend wants his Blue Ant agency to understand and initially has in his employ, a former rock singer, Hollis Henry, and a recovering drug addict, Milgrim (both of whom will be familiar to readers of his previous book). Both are separately working for Bigend, with varying degrees of reluctance but quickly become immersed in the same task. If that sounds a dull basis for a story, you would be wrong. Yes, at times it feels a little on the unlikely side, but then it will have you questioning if it is really so unlikely after all. At stake here is the ability to control fashion desirability and Gibson goes on to make some thought provoking links between street fashion and military ware.

Everything in Bigend's world is knowingly über-cool. Sometimes this can be irritating, but it is essential to build up the world in which Blue Ant is involved. I-phones get a lot of coverage, as do augmented reality, CCTV surveillance and Japanese 'secret brands'. Gibson also seems strangely obsessed with describing elevators. The constant brand mentioning would get wearing in some books, but here is entirely justified. By including the reactions of Milgrim, who has been 'off the grid' in re-hab, to some of the technology that we are now very familiar with, like Twitter, Gibson will have you thinking 'really, can they do that?' with some of his more outlandish concepts. If so, we are in for a treat with penguin-shaped balloons in the very near future.

The book is largely, and convincingly, set in London, with the odd foray into Paris and the US. Often American writers who set books in London seem to fail to grasp the soul of the city, but Gibson pulls it off with aplomb.

It's fast moving, entertaining and frequently amusing. The heart of the mystery around which the thriller operates does shift at times, and this can be a bit annoying, and ultimately it's a lot of tech to employ on such a small issue, but it's fair to say, without revealing too much, that even Bigend might be in over his head on this one. There's a lot of paranoia and there's always seems to be someone watching everyone, sometimes from a penguin balloon (I think I may be getting a bit too excited about this prospect!)

Out thanks to the good people at Viking Books for inviting us to review Zero History.

We'd recommend the previous books in this Blue Ant trilogy Pattern Recognition by William Gibson and Spook Country by William Gibson, or if you are looking for an alternative, you might also enjoy Blonde Bombshell by Tom Holt.

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