"My daddy he's a handsome devil
got a chain 'bout nine miles long
And from every link
A heart does dangle
Of another maid
He's loved and wronged."

(Count Zero, page 162.)


Count Zero is the second book in William Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy and is set eight years after the events which occured in Neuromancer. With the immense critical and public success which Neuromancer garnered, the immediate question is whether Count Zero is a worthy follow-up to one of the most unique and vital science fiction novels written in the past thirty years. Gibson manages to keep his style fresh in his second full-length novel, and his dim and gritty image of the future is as appealing as ever. The novel, however, fails to hang together as well as Neuromancer did and some of visceral intensity is missing. It seems as if Gibson is much more comfortable with his approach to character and plot in this work and that he is unwilling to take the chances which made Neuromancer feel so vibrant.

The plot concerns the lives of three individuals: Turner, Marly Krushkhova and Bobby Newmark. Turner is a corporate mercenary who works for the highest bidder, performing tasks that the media never hears about, such as the extraction of high profile individuals whose employers would rather have them killed than see them defect to a rival company. In the first chapter, Turner is completely annihilated by an explosive device known as a slamhound, and he is shipped to Chiba in two cargo jets to be reassembled by a austere black medic known as the Dutchman. Marly owned one of the most fashionable art galleries in Paris until her boyfriend, Alain, arranged for her to display and sell a forgery of a famous artist's work without her knowledge. Broke and living with her friend Andrea as the novel opens, Marly soon accepts a mysterious assignment from the world's wealthiest individual, Herr Josef Virek. She is to find the creator of certain 'sculptures', simple wood and glass boxes which contain the tattered detritus of life, arranged into a kind of physical poetry. Bobby Newmark, alias Count Zero, is nothing but a small-town kid looking to make it big and get out of his mother's appartment in Barrytown. Armed with a cyberdeck and a rented ice breaker he got from his 'wareman Two-a-Day, he pulls a run that nearly gets him killed. Instants before his imminent brain death, something leans in, straight out of the grey void of cyberspace, and saves him. And finding out who or what that something is will change the way people look at technology, cyberspace and religion.

Thus begins the rollercoaster ride that is the plot of Count Zero. Although nothing as psychdelic as the conclusion of Neuromancer manifests itself in Count Zero's plot, the story is full of twists and turns which bring the characters together through coincidence, conspiracy and divine intervention. The plot structure is indicative of what Gibson's later work would feature. Each plot thread is tightly assembled and they come together expertly, but the overall separation of the main characters dilutes the over all effect of the work. Because Gibson gives all of his characters nearly equal attention, and none really stands out as the clear protagonist of the novel. Although Turner stands out as the tough, resourceful leading man, he lacks the charm of the inexperienced and bumbling Bobby Newmark. Marly's character is somewhat metallic and stale, but without her insight into Josef Virek and the curious art boxes, the novel would be effectively lobotomized. Although each character is integral to the plot, the way in which they inter-relate can be jarring to the reader, who is often left awash in a sea of detail.

Gibson's style is as crisp as ever. His prose is still terse and at some times nearly unreadable, but the effect created is worth having to re-read some paragraphs more than once. The writing in Count Zero focuses more intently on plot than on setting; here Gibson is concerned with telling the story of people who live in the Sprawl rather than explain what the Sprawl is and how it functions. Some of the wonder is lost in this transition, as the reader is no longer fascinated by the details of the future and simply learns to accept to the ubiquitous, world-shaping technology as the norm. Only show pieces that are truly alien to the real world, such as city-sized arcologies, are given any special attention.

When considering Gibson's entire body of work, Count Zero can be viewed as a departure from the conceptual, iconoclastic drive behind Neuromancer. The reader can begin to see the hallmarks of Gibson's now-standard plot structure, the tightly interwoven plot threads concerning seemingly unrelated and unwitting individuals. The astute observer can also feel the gelling of Gibson's narrative tone into the bright cosmopolitan world-view which is featured through out the books of the Bridge Trilogy. Count Zero is another trip into the dark, corporation-dominated future with new tweaks which may disappoint some readers. Others, however, will be pleased to see Gibson's evolution as an author has allowed him to expand the Sprawl universe without cheapening his vision, or dumbing his down his writing.


Sources

Derra, Manuel. The William Gibson Aleph (http://www.antonraubenweiss.com/gibson/gibson.html)
Gibson, William. Count Zero

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