best read lately – Zero History by William Gibson

The fiction that William Gibson writes now cannot strictly be called Science Fiction (or, if you prefer, speculative fiction). The world in Zero History (and the rest of the Blue Ant trilogy, Pattern Recognition and Spook Country) contains nothing that is not currently available in the world today. Sometimes, you have to make an effort to remember that he’s made none of these facts up. Of course the plot and people and details of their story are fictional – but all have been created by things that really exist. The world in the Blue Ant trilogy is our world, we live in it. And seen through Gibson’s eyes – it’s a crazy, freaky, fabulous place.

The difference – the thing that makes him incredible and amazing and worthy of homage and envy – is his ability to translate a unique viewpoint into prose that puts the reader firmly behind his eyeballs (real or metaphorical) so that they see the world new and different. He seems to have ‘created a new world’ out of the real world that surrounds us. I imagine that he developed this skill by building ‘fake’ worlds inspired by what he saw in the real world, until the world morphed and the reverse was now more interesting or inspirational or what-have-you.

The plot is slightly less labyrinthine than many previous Gibson novels, but no less satisfying. And (spoiler alert) the meeting between Hollis and the never-named Cayce had me jumping for happy-joy.  These characters echo much of my own personal world-view, and I’m sure that Hollis and Cayce and I would be friends.

I feel I should mention (for those who’ve not read Gibson) that he writes fantastic female characters, without it ever feeling like he’s trying to write a strong female lead character. All of his characters are nuanced and real and convincing, and many of them happen to be female – females recognizable as fully human and in no way singled out as unusual in being so. This is certainly true for the Blue Ant trilogy, and if memory serves, is true for previous works. Chevette from the Bridge Trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, All Tomorrow’s Parties) is a favorite, and I’ve loved Cayce since the first page of Pattern Recognition.

I went to see William Gibson at Powell’s in September (day two of his book tour – yay living in Portland!) to hear him read from Zero History. And truly, to be in the same room with him and get a feel for who he is. Again, as with Chabon, it was everything I’d hoped it would be.  I’d recently listened to Spook Country on audio (not read by him) and so it was easy to slip back into that world.  The descriptions sound even more odd when you are listening to them rather than being on the page, where you can go back and read them again to figure out what familiar object he’s describing in such unfamiliar terms. I’d read Spook Country several times before hearing it, so I was simply being reminding, not told for the first time.

I am super-focused on getting my debts paid off right now, and don’t usually buy hardback books anymore, so I didn’t buy a copy that day. I’d had Zero History on hold at the library for more than a month the day the book was released (I think I was something like #26 on the list) and was ever-so-patiently waiting for my turn. It finally came the day before I left for Alaska for six days of child- and friend-bonding. Perfect! There’s nothing better than a highly-anticipated read on a trip with many plane rides and days spent waiting for people to get off work. I almost started it again as soon as I’d finished it (which I don’t believe I’ve ever done). And I was sad to give it back to the library – but of course did so quickly after returning home, since my book-receiving karma must be kept in tip-top shape at my only current, dependable source for new reading material. I’m tempted to put it on hold again right now so I can read it again soon. Though not too soon – currently 135 holds on 44 copies. It makes me happy to see how many other people appreciate fabulous writing and a unique world-view. Go. Read it. Start with Pattern Recognition. You won’t be sorry.

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