Sunday, 25 March 2012

Don't delay gratification - William Gibson's Zero History

I've just finished Zero History, the final novel in William Gibson's espionage marketing trilogy. 

I delayed finishing to savour Zero History and I regret it. I should have powered on through, forgotten about the rest of my life and stayed in-mode, with my prose perception tuned to William Gibson's dissonant portrayal of reality and characters. As it was, I got distracted. Lost my edge.
The tight surreal descriptions of surroundings that make for such great poetry-punk in describing Gibson's contemporary 21st century really get frustrating when describing action scenes. When Zero History briefly turns into cyber-SNATCH at the end the need to read every paragraph twice stops being clever and quickly gets irritating.

The re-introduction of great characters from Pattern Recognition is a let down and although the characters from the near impenetrable Spooky Country are much better shown here they are continually undercut by a new boyfriend or new henchman appearing from nowhere to save the day.

As with the other Hubertus Bigend novels, Gibson's need to keep introducing minor characters is a real irritation, especially at the expense of great characters you would rather hear a lot more of. The Molly Millions of Zero History is Heidi Hyde, the drummer for Hollis Henry's defunct band, Curfew, who is consistently funny throughout and makes you wish the novel had been less about fashion espionage and more about eccentric ex-rock band members adjusting to life in normal society.

The more the arcane characters of Blue Ant (the accidental SPECTRE of ad agencies) and Curfew recede into the background and the more convenient romantic foils feature (I did not believe in Gareth or Fiona for a second) the less interesting Zero History became. The director or Blue Ant lets his daughter have a career as a dispatch rider in London? I'm not sure I would have believed in something like that in Neuromancer let alone the supposed reality of contemporary London.

Still, aside from the characters and the action which are problems common to the rest of the Bigend trilogy, Zero History has moments of real dazzling imagination and poetry. Reading most of Zero History was a real pleasure. More and more with Gibson the actual plot and characters are receding into the background behind the poetry of mundane detail. Less and less influenced by Philip K Dick and Ridley Scott, he's becoming more like Brett Easton Ellis and Ballard. 
Cabinet, is virtually a character in itself

I particularly like this, which fits easily with my experience of life:
Milgrim, speaks of Bigend's personal philosophy
He believed that stasis is the real enemy.. Stability is the beginning of the end.. we only walk by continuing to fall forward
It also gives us a fresh look at London from a foriegn perspective. WG is obviously obsessed with the retro-fit in London and Paris, and has never hesitated to tell us the the nationality of every person we meet - still influenced by the multinational Los Angeles bequeathed by Ridely Scott and Sid Meade in Blade Runner.
Gibson created another world out of that, The Sprawl, and the similarly other worldly and deliberately obtuse nature of his prose is hard but rewarding work to adjust to. It is just possible that had I not deplayed my pleasure to savour the book and stayed in mental WG mode to read straight through to the end I might have enjoyed a lot more.

In one chapter he makes more of an Ekranoplan than Sebastain Faulkes does throughout the entire of Devil May Care, which now I think about it was the last thing I finished. Maybe I should stick to Ekranoplan related fiction.
So, despite delay, I was feeling pretty good about actually finishing a book in pretty good time. 400 pages in two weeks. 

Then I hear, back in Parracombe, Peter Goode has finished the new Neil Stephenson ('his 'pattern recognition'), REAMDE, 1040 pages, in two days. "Very good, bit too much gun touting for my personal taste, but very readable, great characters I think and fun plotlines."

  • Portions of this blogpost previously appeared in a drunken rant 24/3/12
  • The automating line spacing and formatting in Blogger continue to be a mystery to me. If I formatted documents like this as part of my job I would be taken out and shot.

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