In a return to the Sprawl, William Gibson brings us Count Zero, the follow-up to Neuromancer and second book in the trilogy. Taking place years after the culminating events of the first book, weird happenings are occurring in cyberspace as powerful entities present themselves as voodoo loa.
In the first of three story threads, they “speak” to a group of hackers, having them test out a new, sophisticated icebreaker program that can access any system. They recruit our unknowing hero, Bobby “Count Zero” Newmark, to test the program, but things go awry and people are killed.
In the second thread, super-wealthy art patron Josef Virek hires Marly to find the creator of several uniquely constructed artistic boxes. In her search, many of the people Marly interact with are later found dead, and her search takes her to the now abandoned Tessier-Ashpool space station—the same location where AIs Neuromancer and Wintermute combined in the first book.
In the third thread, merc Turner is hired to help a genius biosoft engineer defect from one transnational conglomerate to another. But the extraction goes bad when the engineer’s daughter is extracted instead of the engineer himself. Turner barely escapes with the girl before everyone else involved in the extraction is killed. With revolutionary biosoft implants in her head, “voices” guide the girl and Turner to help.
As threads merge, those pulling the strings are identified and their motives revealed.
Gibson’s unique style permeates every scene in the book, such as his unique descriptions of people and places. Here’s a sample from the very first paragraph of the book:
They set a slamhound on Turner’s trail in New Delhi, slotted it to his pheromones and the color of his hair. It caught up with him on a street called Chandni Chauk and came scrambling for his rented BMW through a forest of bare brown legs and pedicab tires. Its core was a kilogram of recrystallized hexogene and flaked TNT.
What a description! To me, the efficiency of every word and uniqueness of visual imagery sets Gibson apart from other authors. A founder of the cyberpunk genre, Gibson brings us commonly used words today, including cyberspace, matrix, hacker, and microsoft. But his work is punctuated with even more evocative terms: console cowboy, razorgirl, biosoft, slamhound, simstim, and many others.
Admittedly, reading Gibson takes some work as each word and each sentence carries meaning. It cannot be skimmed but must be read intently. I find myself both tired from the strain and invigorated from the pure energy of ideas of reading Gibson.
Masterpieces of the cyberpunk genre, Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive, the final book in the Sprawl trilogy, should be required reading for any science fiction aficionado.