Zero History

Zero History

by William Gibson

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Overview

Hollis Henry never intended to work for global marketing magnate Hubertus Bigend again. But now she’s broke, and Bigend has just the thing to get her back in the game...
 
Milgrim can disappear in almost any setting, and his Russian is perfectly idiomatic—so much so that he spoke it with his therapist in the secret Swiss clinic where Bigend paid for him to be cured of his addiction...
 
Garreth doesn't owe Bigend a thing. But he does have friends from whom he can call in the kinds of favors powerful people need when things go sideways...
 
They all have something Bigend wants as he finds himself outmaneuvered and adrift, after a Department of Defense contract for combat-wear turns out to be the gateway drug for arms dealers so shadowy they can out-Bigend Bigend himself.

Zero History is [Gibson’s] best yet, a triumph of science fiction as social criticism and adventure.”—BoingBoing.net

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425259450
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/02/2012
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 594,338
Product dimensions: 4.36(w) x 7.38(h) x 1.19(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

William Gibson’s first novel, Neuromancer, won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Philip K. Dick Award. He is also the New York Times bestselling author of Count ZeroBurning ChromeMona Lisa OverdriveVirtual LightIdoruAll Tomorrow’s PartiesPattern RecognitionSpook CountryZero HistoryDistrust That Particular Flavor, and The Peripheral. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife.

Hometown:

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Date of Birth:

March 17, 1948

Place of Birth:

Conway, South Carolina

Education:

B.A., University of British Columbia, 1977

Read an Excerpt

1. CABINET

Inchmale hailed a cab for her, the kind that had always been black, when she'd first known this city.

Pearlescent silver, this one. Glyphed in Prussian blue, advertising something German, banking services or business software; a smoother simulacrum of its black ancestors, its faux-leather upholstery a shade of orthopedic fawn.

"Their money's heavy," he said, dropping a loose warm mass of pound coins into her hand. "Buys many whores." The coins still retained the body heat of the fruit machine from which he'd deftly wrung them, almost in passing, on their way out of the King's Something.

"Whose money?"

"My countrymen's. Freely given."

"I don't need this." Trying to hand it back.

"For the cab." Giving the driver the address in Portman Square.

"Oh Reg," she said, "it wasn't that bad. I had it in money markets, most of it."

"Bad as anything else. Call him."

"No."

"Call him," he repeated, wrapped in Japanese herringbone Gore-Tex, multiply flapped and counter-intuitively buckled.

He closed the cab's door.

She watched him through the rear window as the cab pulled away. Stout and bearded, he turned now in Greek Street, a few minutes past midnight, to rejoin his stubborn protégé, Clammy of the Bollards. Back to the studio, to take up their lucrative creative struggle.

She sat back, noticing nothing at all until they passed Selfridges, the driver taking a right.

The club, only a few years old, was on the north side of Portman Square. Getting out, she paid and generously tipped the driver, anxious to be rid of Inchmale's winnings.

Cabinet, so called; of Curiosities, unspoken. Inchmale had become a member shortly after they, the three surviving members of the Curfew, had licensed the rights to "Hard to Be One" to a Chinese automobile manufacturer. Having already produced one Bollards album in Los Angeles, and with Clammy wanting to record the next in London, Inchmale had argued that joining Cabinet would ultimately prove cheaper than a hotel. And it had, she supposed, but only if you were talking about a very expensive hotel.

She was staying there now as a paying guest. Given the state of money markets, whatever those were, and the conversations she'd been having with her accountant in New York, she knew that she should be looking for more modestly priced accommodations.

A peculiarly narrow place, however expensive, Cabinet occupied half the vertical mass of an eighteenth-century townhouse, one whose façade reminded her of the face of someone starting to fall asleep on the subway. It shared a richly but soberly paneled foyer with whatever occupied the other, westernmost, half of the building, and she'd formed a vague conviction that this must be a foundation of some kind, perhaps philanthropic in nature, or dedicated to the advancement of peace in the Middle East, however eventual. Something hushed, in any case, as it appeared to have no visitors at all.

There was nothing, on façade or door, to indicate what that might be, no more than there was anything to indicate that Cabinet was Cabinet.

She'd seen those famously identical, silver-pelted Icelandic twins in the lounge, the first time she'd gone there, both of them drinking red wine from pint glasses, something Inchmale dubbed an Irish affectation. They weren't members, he'd made a point of noting. Cabinet's members, in the performing arts, were somewhat less than stellar, and she assumed that that suited Inchmale just about as well as it suited her.

It was the decor that had sold Inchmale, he said, and very likely it had been. Both he and it were arguably mad.

Pushing open the door, through which one might have ridden a horse without having to duck to clear the lintel, she was greeted by Robert, a large and comfortingly chalk-striped young man whose primary task was to mind the entrance without particularly seeming to.

"Good evening, Miss Henry."

"Good evening, Robert."

The decorators had kept it down, here, which was to say that they hadn't really gone publicly, ragingly, batshit insane. There was a huge, ornately carved desk, with something vaguely pornographic going on amid mahogany vines and grape clusters, at which sat one or another of the club's employees, young men for the most part, often wearing tortoiseshell spectacles of the sort she suspected of having been carved from actual turtles.

Beyond the desk's agreeably archaic mulch of paperwork twined a symmetrically opposed pair of marble stairways, leading to the floor above; that floor being bisected, as was everything above this foyer, into twin realms of presumed philanthropic mystery and Cabinet. From the Cabinet side, now, down the stairs with the wider-shins twist, cascaded the sound of earnest communal drinking, laughter and loud conversation bouncing sharply off unevenly translucent stone, marbled in shades of aged honey, petroleum jelly, and nicotine. The damaged edges of individual steps had been repaired with tidy rectangular inserts of less inspired stuff, pallid and mundane, which she was careful never to step on.

A tortoise-framed young man, seated at the desk, passed her the room key without being asked.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome, Miss Henry."

Beyond the archway separating the stairways, the floor plan gave evidence of hesitation. Indicating, she guessed, some awkwardness inherent in the halving of the building's original purpose. She pressed a worn but regularly polished brass button, to call down the oldest elevator she'd ever seen, even in London. The size of a small, shallow closet, wider than it was deep, it took its time, descending its elongated cage of black-enameled steel.

To her right, in shadow, illuminated from within by an Edwardian museum fixture, stood a vitrine displaying taxidermy. Game birds, mostly; a pheasant, several quail, others she couldn't put a name to, all mounted as though caught in motion, crossing a sward of faded billiard-felt. All somewhat the worse for wear, though no more than might be expected for their probable age. Behind them, anthropomorphically upright, forelimbs outstretched in the manner of a cartoon somnambulist, came a moth-eaten ferret. Its teeth, which struck her as unrealistically large, she suspected of being wooden, and painted. Certainly its lips were painted, if not actually rouged, lending it a sinisterly festive air, like someone you'd dread running into at a Christmas party. Inchmale, on first pointing it out to her, had suggested she adopt it as a totem, her spirit beast. He claimed that he already had, subsequently discovering he could magically herniate the disks of unsuspecting music executives at will, causing them to suffer excruciating pain and a profound sense of helplessness.

The lift arrived. She'd been a guest here long enough to have mastered the intricacies of the articulated steel gate. Resisting an urge to nod to the ferret, she entered and ascended, slowly, to the third floor.

Here the narrow hallways, walls painted a very dark green, twisted confusingly. The route to her room involved opening several of what she assumed were fire doors, as they were very thick, heavy, and self-closing. The short sections of corridor, between, were hung with small watercolors, landscapes, un-peopled, each one featuring a distant folly. The very same distant folly, she'd noticed, regardless of the scene or region depicted. She refused to give Inchmale the satisfaction he'd derive from her asking about these, so hadn't. Something too thoroughly liminal about them. Best not addressed. Life sufficiently complicated as it was.

The key, attached to a weighty brass ferrule sprouting thick soft tassels of braided maroon silk, turned smoothly in the lock's brick-sized mass. Admitting her to Number Four, and the concentrated impact of Cabinet's designers' peculiarity, theatrically revealed when she prodded the mother-of-pearl dot set into an otherwise homely gutta-percha button.

Too tall, somehow, though she imagined that to be the result of a larger room having been divided, however cunningly. The bathroom, she suspected, might actually be larger than the bedroom, if that weren't some illusion.

They'd run with that tallness, employing a white, custom-printed wallpaper, decorated with ornate cartouches in glossy black. These were comprised, if you looked more closely, of enlarged bits of anatomical drawings of bugs. Scimitar mandibles, spiky elongated limbs, the delicate wings (she imagined) of mayflies. The two largest pieces of furniture in the room were the bed, its massive frame covered entirely in slabs of scrimshawed walrus ivory, with the enormous, staunchly ecclesiastic-looking lower jawbone of a right whale, fastened to the wall at its head, and a birdcage, so large she might have crouched in it herself, suspended from the ceiling. The cage was stacked with books, and fitted, inside, with minimalist Swiss halogen fixtures, each tiny bulb focused on one or another of Number Four's resident artifacts. And not just prop books, Inchmale had proudly pointed out. Fiction or non-, they all seemed to be about England, and so far she'd read parts of Dame Edith Sitwell's English Eccentrics and most of Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male.

She took off her coat, putting it on a stuffed, satin-covered hanger in the wardrobe, and sat on the edge of the bed to untie her shoes. The Piblokto Madness bed, Inchmale called it. "Intense hysteria," she recited now, from memory, "depression, coprophagia, insensitivity to cold, echolalia." She kicked her shoes in the direction of the wardrobe's open door. "Hold the coprophagia," she added. Cabin fever, this culture-bound, arctic condition. Possibly dietary in origin. Linked to vitamin A toxicity. Inchmale was full of this sort of information, never more so than when he was in the studio. Give Clammy a whole hod of vitamin A, she'd suggested, he looks like he could use it.

Her gaze fell on three unopened brown cartons, stacked to the left of the wardrobe. These contained shrink-wrapped copies of the British edition of a book she'd written in hotel rooms, though none as peculiarly memorable as this one. She'd begun just after the Chinese car commercial money had come in. She'd gone to Staples, West Hollywood, and bought three flimsy Chinese-made folding tables, to lay the manuscript and its many illustrations out on, in her corner suite at the Marmont. That seemed a long time ago, and she didn't know what she'd do with these copies. The cartons of her copies of the American edition, she now remembered, were still in the luggage room of the Tribeca Grand.

"Echolalia," she said, and stood, removing her sweater, which she folded and put in a chest-high drawer in the wardrobe, beside a small silk land mine of potpourri. If she didn't touch it, she knew, she wouldn't have to smell it. Putting on an off-white Cabinet robe, more velour than terry but somehow just missing whatever it was that made her so un-fond of velour bathrobes. Men, particularly, looked fundamentally untrustworthy in them.

The room phone began to ring. It was a collage, its massive nautical-looking handset of rubber-coated bronze resting in a leather-padded cradle atop a cubical box of brass-cornered rosewood. Its ring was mechanical, tiny, as though you were hearing an old-fashioned bicycle bell far off down a quiet street. She stared hard, willing it to silence.

"Intense hysteria," she said.

It continued to ring.

Three steps and her hand was on it.

It was as absurdly heavy as ever.

"Coprophagia." Briskly, as if announcing a busy department in a large hospital.

"Hollis," he said, "hello."

She looked down at the handset, heavy as an old hammer and nearly as battered. Its thick cord, luxuriously cased in woven burgundy silk, resting against her bare forearm.

"Hollis?"

"Hello, Hubertus."

She pictured herself driving the handset through brittle antique rosewood, crushing the aged electro-mechanical cricket within. Too late now. It had already fallen silent.

"I saw Reg," he said.

"I know."

"I told him to ask you to call."

"I didn't," she said.

"Good to hear your voice," he said.

"It's late."

"A good night's sleep, then," heartily. "I'll be by in the morning, for breakfast. We're driving back tonight. Pamela and I."

"Where are you?"

"Manchester."

She saw herself taking an early cab to Paddington, the street in front of Cabinet deserted. Catching the Heathrow Express. Flying somewhere. Another phone ringing, in another room. His voice.

"Manchester?"

"Norwegian black metal," he said, flatly. She pictured Scandinavian folk jewelry, then self-corrected: the musical genre. "Reg said I might find it interesting."

Good for him, she thought, Inchmale's subclinical sadism sometimes finding a deserving target.

"I was planning on sleeping in," she said, if only to be difficult. She knew now that it was going to be impossible to avoid him.

"Eleven, then," he said. "Looking forward to it."

"Good night. Hubertus."

"Good night." He hung up.

She put the handset down. Careful of the hidden cricket. Not its fault.

Nor hers.

Nor even his, probably. Whatever he was.

2. EDGE CITY

Milgrim considered the dog-headed angels in Gay Dolphin Gift Cove.

Their heads, rendered slightly less than three-quarter scale, appeared to have been cast from the sort of plaster once used to produce worryingly detailed wall-decorations: pirates, Mexicans, turbaned Arabs. There would almost certainly be examples of those here as well, he thought, in the most thoroughgoing trove of roadside American souvenir kitsch he'd ever seen.

Their bodies, apparently humanoid under white satin and sequins, were long, Modigliani-slender, perilously upright, paws crossed piously in the manner of medieval effigies. Their wings were the wings of Christmas ornaments, writ larger than would suit the average tree.

They were intended, he decided, with half a dozen of assorted breed facing him now, from behind glass, to sentimentally honor deceased pets.

Hands in trouser pockets, he quickly swung his gaze to a broader but generally no less peculiar visual complexity, noting as he did a great many items featuring Confederate-flag motifs. Mugs, magnets, ashtrays, statuettes. He considered a knee-high jockey boy, proffering a small round tray rather than the traditional ring. Its head and hands were a startling Martian green (so as not to give the traditional offense, he assumed). There were also energetically artificial orchids, coconuts carved to suggest the features of some generically indigenous race, and prepackaged collections of rocks and minerals. It was like being on the bottom of a Coney Island grab-it game, one in which the eclectically un-grabbed had been accumulating for decades. He looked up, imagining a giant, three-pronged claw, agent of stark removal, but there was only a large and heavily varnished shark, suspended overhead like the fuselage of a small plane.

How old did a place like this have to be, in America, to have "gay" in its name? Some percentage of the stock here, he judged, had been manufactured in Occupied Japan.

Half an hour earlier, across North Ocean Boulevard, he'd watched harshly tonsured child-soldiers, clad in skateboarding outfits still showing factory creases, ogling Chinese-made orc-killing blades, spiked and serrated like the jaws of extinct predators. The seller's stand had been hung with Mardi Gras beads, Confederate-flag beach towels, unauthorized Harley-Davidson memorabilia. He'd wondered how many young men had enjoyed an afternoon in Myrtle Beach as a final treat, before heading ultimately for whatever theater of war, wind whipping sand along the Grand Strand and the boardwalk.

In the amusement arcades, he judged, some of the machines were older than he was. And some of his own angels, not the better ones, spoke of an ancient and deeply impacted drug culture, ground down into the carnival grime of the place, interstitial and immortal; sundamaged skin, tattoos unreadable, eyes that peered from faces suggestive of gas-station taxidermy.

He was meeting someone here.

They were supposed to be alone. He himself wasn't, really. Somewhere nearby, Oliver Sleight would be watching a Milgrim-cursor on a website, on the screen of his Neo phone, identical to Milgrim's own. He'd given Milgrim the Neo on that first flight from Basel to Heathrow, stressing the necessity of keeping it with him at all times, and turned on, except when aboard commercial flights.

He moved, now, away from the dog-headed angels, the shadow of the shark. Past articles of an ostensibly more natural history: starfish, sand dollars, sea horses, conchs. He climbed a short flight of broad stairs, from the boardwalk level, toward North Ocean Boulevard. Until he found himself, eye-to-navel, with the stomach of a young, very pregnant woman, her elastic-paneled jeans chemically distressed in ways that suggested baroquely improbable patterns of wear. The taut pink T-shirt revealed her protruding navel in a way he found alarmingly suggestive of a single giant breast.

"You'd better be him," she said, then bit her lower lip. Blond, a face he'd forget as soon as he looked away. Large dark eyes.

"I'm meeting someone," he said, careful to maintain eye contact, uncomfortably aware that he was actually addressing the navel, or nipple, directly in front of his mouth.

Her eyes grew larger. "You aren't foreign, are you?"

"New York," Milgrim admitted, assuming that might all too easily qualify.

"I don't want him getting in any trouble," she said, at once softly and fiercely.

"None of us does," he instantly assured her. "No need. At all." His attempted smile felt like something forced from a flexible squeeze-toy. "And you are…; ?

"Seven or eight months," she said, in awe at her own gravidity. "He's not here. He didn't like this, here."

"None of us does," he said, then wondered if that was the right thing to say.

"You got GPS?"

"Yes," said Milgrim. Actually, according to Sleight, their Neos had two kinds, American and Russian, the American being notoriously political, and prone to unreliability in the vicinity of sensitive sites.

"He'll be there in an hour," she said, passing Milgrim a faintly damp slip of folded paper. "You better get started. And you better be alone."

Milgrim took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," he said, "but if it means driving, I won't be able to go alone. I don't have a license. My friend will have to drive me. It's a white Ford Taurus X."

She stared at him. Blinked. "Didn't they just fuck Ford up, when they went to giving them f-names?"

He swallowed.

"My mother had a Freestyle. Transmission's a total piece of shit. Get that computer wet, car won't move at all. Gotta disconnect it first. Brakes wore out about two weeks off the lot. They always made that squealing noise anyway." But she seemed comforted, in this, as if by the recollection of something maternal, familiar.

"Right as rain," he said, surprising himself with an expression he might never have used before. He pocketed the slip of paper without looking at it. "Could you do something for me, please?" he asked her belly. "Could you call him, now, and let him know my friend will be driving?"

Lower lip worked its way back under her front teeth.

"My friend has the money," Milgrim said. "No trouble."

<<<

"And she called him?" asked Sleight, behind the wheel of the Taurus X, from the center of a goatee he occasionally trimmed with the aid of a size-adjustable guide, held between his teeth.

"She indicated she would," Milgrim said.

"Indicated."

They were headed inland, toward the town of Conway, through a landscape that reminded Milgrim of driving somewhere near Los Angeles, to a destination you wouldn't be particularly anxious to reach. This abundantly laned highway, lapped by the lots of outlet malls, a Home Depot the size of a cruise ship, theme restaurants. Though interstitial detritus still spoke stubbornly of maritime activity and the farming of tobacco. Fables from before the Anaheiming. Milgrim concentrated on these leftovers, finding them centering. A lot offering garden mulch. A four-store strip mall with two pawnshops. A fireworks emporium with its own batting cage. Loans on your auto title. Serried ranks of unpainted concrete garden statuary.

"Was that a twelve-step program you were in, in Basel?" asked Sleight.

"I don't think so," said Milgrim, assuming Sleight was referring to the number of times his blood had been changed.

<<<

"How close will those numbers put us to where he wants us?" Milgrim asked. Sleight, back in Myrtle Beach, had tapped coordinates from the pregnant girl's note into his phone, which now rested on his lap.

"Close enough," Sleight said. "Looks like that's it now, off to the right."

They were well through Conway, or in any case through the malled-over fringes of whatever Conway was. Buildings were thinning out, the landscape revealing more of the lineaments of an extinct agriculture.

Sleight slowed, swung right, onto spread gravel, a crushed limestone, pale gray. "Money's under your seat," he said. They were rolling, with a smooth, even crunch of tires in gravel, toward a long, one-story, white-painted clapboard structure, overhung with a roof that lacked a porch beneath it. Rural roadside architecture of some previous day, plain but sturdy. Four smallish rectangular front windows had been modernized with plate glass.

Milgrim had the cardboard tube for the tracing paper upright between his thighs, two sticks of graphite wrapped in a Kleenex in the right side pocket of his chinos. There was half of a fresh five-foot sheet of foam-core illustration board in the back seat, in case he needed a flat surface to work on. Holding the bright red tube with his knees, he bent forward, fishing under the seat, and found a metallic-blue vinyl envelope with a molded integral zipper and three binder-holes. It contained enough bundled hundreds to give it the heft of a good-sized paperback dictionary.

Gravel-crunch ceased as they halted, not quite in front of the building. Milgrim saw a primitive rectangular sign on two weather-grayed uprights, rain-stained and faded, unreadable except for FAMILY, in pale blue italic serif caps. There were no other vehicles in the irregularly shaped gravel lot.

He opened the door, got out, stood, the red tube in his left hand. He considered, then uncapped it, drawing out the furled tracing paper. He propped the red tube against the passenger seat, picked up the money, and closed the door. A scroll of semi-translucent white paper was less threatening.

Cars passed on the highway. He walked the fifteen feet to the sign, his shoes crunching loudly on the gravel. Above the blue italic FAMILY, he made out EDGE CITY in what little remained of a peeling red; below it, RESTAURANT. At the bottom, to the left, had once been painted, in black, the childlike silhouettes of three houses, though like the red, sun and rain had largely erased them. To the right, in a different blue than FAMILY, was painted what he took to be a semi-abstract representation of hills, possibly of lakes. He guessed that this place was on or near the town's official outskirts, hence the name.

Someone, within the silent, apparently closed building, rapped sharply, once, on plate glass, perhaps with a ring.

Milgrim went obediently to the front door, the tracing paper upheld in one hand like a modest scepter, the vinyl envelope held against his side with the other.

The door opened inward, revealing a football player with an Eighties porn haircut. Or someone built like one. A tall, long-legged young man with exceptionally powerful-looking shoulders. He stepped back, gesturing for Milgrim to enter.

"Hello," said Milgrim, stepping into warm unmoving air, mixed scents of industrial-strength disinfectant and years of cooking. "I have your money." Indicating the plastic envelope. A place unused, though ready to be used. Mothballed, Edge City, like a B-52 in the desert. He saw the empty glass head of a gum machine, on its stand of wrinkle-finished brown pipe.

"Put it on the counter," the young man said. He wore pale blue jeans and a black T-shirt, both of which looked as though they might contain a percentage of Spandex, and heavy-looking black athletic shoes. Milgrim noted a narrow, rectangular, unusually positioned pocket, quite far down on the right side-seam. A stainless steel clip held some large folding knife firmly there.

Milgrim did as he was told, noting the chrome and the turquoise leatherette of the row of floor-mounted stools in front of the counter, which was topped with worn turquoise Formica. He partially unfurled the paper. "I'll need to make tracings," he explained. "It's the best way to capture the detail. I'll take photographs first."

"Who's in the car?"

"My friend."

"Why can't you drive?"

"DUI," said Milgrim, and it was true, at least in some philosophical sense.

Silently, the young man rounded an empty glass display-case that would once have contained cigarettes and candy. When he was opposite Milgrim, he reached beneath the counter and drew out something in a crumpled white plastic bag. He dropped this on the counter and swept the plastic envelope toward the far end, giving the impression that his body, highly trained, was doing these things of its own accord, while he himself continued to survey from some interior distance.

Milgrim opened the bag and took out a pair of folded, un-pressed trousers. They were the coppery beige shade he knew as coyote brown. Unfolding them, he lay them out flat along the Formica, took the camera from his jacket pocket, and began to photograph them, using the flash. He took six shots of the front, then turned them over and took six of the back. He took one photograph each of the four cargo pockets. He put the camera down, turned the pants inside out, and photographed them again. Pocketing the camera, he arranged them, still inside out, more neatly on the counter, spread the first of the four sheets of paper over them, and began, with one of the graphite sticks, to make his rubbing.

He liked doing this. There was something inherently satisfying about it. He'd been sent to Hackney, to a tailor who did alterations, to spend an afternoon learning how to do it properly, and it pleased him, somehow, that this was a time-honored means of stealing information. It was like making a rubbing of a tombstone, or a bronze in a cathedral. The medium-hard graphite, if correctly applied, captured every detail of seam and stitching, all a sample-maker would need to reproduce the garment, as well as providing for reconstruction of the pattern.

While he worked, the young man opened the envelope, unpacked the bundled hundreds, and silently counted them. "Needs a gusset," he said as he finished.

"Pardon?" Milgrim paused, the fingers of his right hand covered with graphite dust.

"Gusset," the young man said, reloading the blue envelope. "Inner thighs. They bind, if you're rappelling."

"Thanks," Milgrim said, showing graphite-smudged fingers. "Would you mind turning them over for me? I don't want to get this on them."

<<<

"Delta to Atlanta," Sleight said, handing Milgrim a ticket envelope. He was back in the very annoying suit he'd forgone for Myrtle Beach, the one with the freakishly short trousers.

"Business?"

"Coach," said Sleight, his satisfaction entirely evident. He passed Milgrim a second envelope. "British Midland to Heathrow."

"Coach?"

Sleight frowned. "Business."

Milgrim smiled.

"He'll want you in a meeting, straight off the plane."

Milgrim nodded. "Bye," he said. He tucked the red tube beneath his arm and headed for check-in, his bag in his other hand, walking directly beneath a very large South Carolina state flag, oddly Islamic with its palm tree and crescent moon.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Zero History is his best yet, a triumph of science fiction as social criticism and adventure."—BoingBoing.net

“[Gibson] weaves an unnerving tapestry of technology, violence and anxiety.”—The Daily Telegraph (London)

“Fascinating.”—The Seattle Times

“Uncanny.”—San Antonio Express-News

“Brilliant, entertaining, and bittersweet.”—io9 (io9.com)

Zero History is another smartly scouted roadmap of alternate routes through today’s global culture, as powered by what a friend of mine used to call the military-industrial-greeting-card complex. It’s a world where cool is king, but also the key to power—and the future.”—Milwaukee Sentinel Journal

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Zero History 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 153 reviews.
TooTallSid More than 1 year ago
Gibson writes about the present, and it feels like science fiction. I have enjoyed the characters in Spook Country and Pattern Recognition and now I think they come to fruition in Zero History. Plus the spy-thriller ending was a lot of fun, and even the obligatory car chase scene was cool. Gibson is one of the those writers, like Neal Stephenson and Tom Robbins and Orson Scott Card, who have enough brains to be nuclear physicists. Instead, happily, he turned his talents to writing about the possible or maybe possible. I love the lightness in his writing in this book. It is like a scent that keeps pulling me forward. I like how he introduces terms and concepts, and manages to define or to explain them without breaking the flow of the story. I also got a distinct feeling for each characters. Most are pretty ambivalent, neither good nor bad, which seems like the real world to me. Gibson's first book, Neuromancer, blew my mind when it came out. I read it twice in 3 days! I've read every one of his books since and love them. I think he is at the top of his game. Btw, Zero History has a very cool concept, the ugliest T-shirt in the world. If you wear it in London, you are erased from the surveillance cameras. In the acknowledgements at the end, Gibson credited Bruce Sterling w/ helping him with that idea. How cool is it that Bruce would give Bill such a great idea, and that Bill would credit him for it? The BBC did a great interview with Gibson about the zeitgeist of Zero History. Search for "bbc William Gibson says the future is right here, right now".
Ninja_Dog More than 1 year ago
While light on action and heavy on atmosphere, Zero History is an intriguing and artful summation of Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. The story features yet another bizarre scheme by Hubertus Bigend, the menacingly curious founder of Blue Ant, a company seemingly without a purpose. Characters from Spook Country return to develop beyond what we knew them as in the past. Milgrim, now free of his crippling addiction, grows out of the schizoid shell he had been hiding in for over a decade, flirting with self-determinism and progressively confronting his anxieties. Hollis Henry, roped again into Bigend's employ, finds what has been missing in her life for so long, ironically while trapped in Blue Ant's web. Bigend, ever the inscrutable manipulator, maintains his paradoxical aura of menace and charm, but becomes more vulnerable than we have seen him in the past. This story is about Bigend's latest scheme; a power-grab for the one "recession-proof" gig in the fashion industry- military clothing contracts. Hollis and Milgrim are brought into Blue Ant's employ half against their will, having been tapped for qualities they don't know they possess. As the story unfolds, Bigend comes to realize that someone else is playing his game and taking the offensive to win. The end of the story has a plot twist that readers of the past books will most likely guess. However, If you are like me, you will be glad Gibson did what he did and would have been disappointed if he had not. The story will give you a sense of full-circle completion, but you will be sadly disappointed if you want meaningful answers as to what Blue Ant really is and what Bigend really aims to do with the company. Overall, I loved the book. A great deal of time was spent on detail and atmosphere and compared to the last two books, this one had the least action. But what were already colorful characters have grown beyond their core programming and actualized into something more interesting, more human... except for Bigend.
Adeian More than 1 year ago
I had a very hard time following this book and couldn't figure out why. I got about 200 pages into it before I just gave up. Turns out that there are a lot of pages missing from the eBook version. Chapters out of order missing parts of chapter. Refund? Nope!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gripping, intricate plot. Amazing extrapolation of technology. One cares deeply for the characters
Eyejaybee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
William Gibson's latest novel is a return to the world of "Pattern Recognition". No Cayce Pollard this time, but the sinister Belgian advertising svengali, Hubertus Bigend, looms large and ominous throughout. In Pollard's place, and just as sympathetic, the leading female character is former rock star Hollis Henry, who is trying to reconfigure her life after losing most of her fortune in the recent banking crisis. Overall I did not feel that this quite matched up to "Pattern Recognition", though I did think that was exceptionally good. As with the earlier book, Gibson shows an immense knowledge of, and empathy with, London's underbelly. He is also capable of conjuring a consuming sense of paranoia as his characters gradually become aware of the relentless surveillance to which they are subjected. A very classy novel.
gbsallery on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sublime very-near-future thriller; an unfolding of the world of Bigend et al., sharply observed and searingly modern. Perhaps just a trifle disappointing in the last few pages, but I think that's just sadness that the book had to end; the whole thing hinges around London and is written as though Gibson is inhaling the zeitgeist then spinning it into taut little sentences in an exquisitely detailed stream. Magnificent.
klh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well, it aint Neuromancer. I'd read Pattern Recognition and Spook Country, so I felt I ought to read this one. I've read them as they came out in paperback, over the years.. As I started reading the book I recalled that most of the characters had been in the previous books, and that I really didn't remember much of anything about them, didn't really recall what happened. I suppose that if one read the books in quick succession the overall story might hang together better. The focus here is on clothing and fashion, of all things; military fashion, that is. Gibson's prose is so flat and spare; it works well when it's telling about compelling ideas like cyberspace and such. In a boring context, it's just boring. Very little actually happens, in terms of action. There's a set-piece at the climax that is repeatedly hinted to be spectacular and 'massive', but it's over in a few paragraphs and much of the detail is conveyed in later conversations. There's a minor thread about how military looks and fantasies have crept into our culture, especially for younger males; the pervasiveness of their harboring ideas of having elite fighting capabilities. Gibson's shallow hints at cabals at secret gyms and Ghurka wrestling throws are either a swipe at this or a dig at it; hard to say which. I get the feeling that Gibson has been spending time in London and Paris and learning a lot about the esoteric aspects of clothing design, so he wrote his book about it. Didn't hate the book, but didn't care about it, and in six months I'll likely be hard pressed to come up with more than a thin plot description if asked in passing. just like the last two. A redeeming aspect is that his spunky Fiona character recalled, just a little, Molly, from the Burning Chrome stories.The two-page "Readers Guide" at the back of the book, with "Discussion Questions" about the whole trio of books, is incredibly pretentious and leaves me very disappointed in Gibson, the fact that my ex-wife read Neuromancer for a University literature class notwithstanding.
geertwissink on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Short, provocative, intelligent prose - minimal art in words on every page. Setting: contemporary London in which iPhones are the interfaces of sophisticated surveillance platforms. Quest: the hunt for the most cool guerilla brand. Still - not the best Gibson I've read, too short on ideas and a thin storyline, more in the style of a contemporary sketch than a full blown novel. But hey, who's complaining, the description the of the Cabinet hotel still hounds my dreams and I'm having the feeling that I'm watched by a silver flying penguin ..
LisaLynne on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Zero History by William Gibson was one of the emergency books I picked up on my trip to Amsterdam and what a lifesaver! It kept me from going crazy on the flight over, although it almost kept me from getting any sleep! It¿s a wild ride through secret territory that kept my attention every second.Zero History is about fashion¿sort of. It¿s about underground fashion ¿ so secret that there are no stores, no catalogs, no websites. There is only a mailing list and if you¿re lucky enough to be on it, maybe there¿s a cryptic message. The meet might be in Tokyo. Or London. Or Perth. Bring cash.It¿s also about technology. In Gibson¿s worlds, there is technology under the surface of things, behind the scenes, hidden from most people. Those flashes of light in the sky aren¿t UFOs ¿ someone knows exactly what they are, but they aren¿t going to tell you. There may very well be a sinister purpose behind those traffic cameras on every corner, a purpose so secret that even the people who designed them don¿t fully understand how they can be used.And then there are the people. There are some amazing characters in this book. There¿s Hubertus Bigend, a man as big as his name. He¿s got the sort of power that you don¿t see, that moves behind the scenes and makes anything possible. There¿s Milgrim ¿ a former drug addict with a subtle but powerful gift. He sees things in ways that normal people do not. Bigend¿s money and influence got him cleaned up and now Bigend uses his special talents. And then there¿s Hollis, who worked for Bigend once and swore she¿d never do it again. Now she¿s in financial trouble and her former boss is taking advantage.I loved this book. It¿s fast-paced, it¿s well written, the vocabulary is terrific and the story does not go any of the places you expect it to go. The characters are unusual, like Fiona the bike messenger who is so much more than a bike messenger and Garreth, extreme-sport enthusiast, who may have connections that go even higher than Bigend¿s. I am fascinated by the hotel Hollis is living in, Cabinet, full of curiosities and strange artwork. (When I read this piece on the Los Angeles hotel, Petit Ermitage, I immediately thought of Cabinet.) I want to rent an apartment there and sleep under the big bird cage.
voicebyjack on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
one of my favorite authors, this book is part of a trilogy with Pattern REcognition and Spook Country, with chracters and themes shared throughout. Very richly detailed, and with these latest books, technology is featured but they are not really sci-fi, but more contemporary, certainly in time and locales.
g33kgrrl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the culmination of narrative strands started in the first two books. Hollis Henry is once again playing detective for Hubertus Bigend, and has to deal with all the corporate intrigue that goes along with it. It also deals with Hollis's life beyond the work, including delving more into Heidi's personality, which I loved, and brings back another character who I liked learning more about. The concept at the end, which I'm not going to address, may feel familiar to anyone who's read Gibson's other work - he likes transformations, and expansions. I don't mean that in a bad way, just in a way that you might recognize some themes.I actually found this my favorite of the three. Milgrim has more personality, and revisiting a certain character from Pattern Recognition was excellent.
8bitmore on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
[very slightly spoiler alert] Nicely written (as in terse and somehow yet visually and emotionally engaging) take on the Bigend saga, though the omnipotency of our supposed marketeer/cool-hunter is starting to come off a bit stale.. seriously. At least the Bigend character transcends his role at the end so there we go, no more same-same from Gibson on that account; hopefully.
miromurr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of William Gibson´s best books. His language is more refined than ever and the action as seen through the eyes of both Hollis Henry and Milgrim from his previous book: Spook country, is bewildering in the most interesting way:-)
Jaelle on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable, but not quite as good, sequel to Pattern Recognition, and Spook County featuring further escapades of Blue Ant and Hilbertus Bigend. If you enjoyed Pattern Recognition and Spook Country, you should like Zero History.
kmaziarz on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After finishing a job investigating the rise of underground ¿locative art¿ for Hubertus Bigend in Spook Country, former rock star Hollis Henry once again finds herself coming to the attention of the mysterious marketing mogul and head of the trend-forecasting firm Blue Ant. Despite her initial reservations about working for the slightly amoral and driven exec, Hollis gets roped into tracking down the designer of an obscure, highly collectible, and extremely exclusive ¿secret brand¿ of clothing, Gabriel Hounds. Bigend is, on the one hand, concerned that the Gabriel Hounds designer is beating him at his own marketing game. On the other hand, the clothing Hounds produces is instantly crave-worthy; all the pieces are well-made, deceptively simple, and completely trend-immune, and Bigend wants to recruit the designer for a project of his own. He¿s decided to slip through a legal loophole and into the lucrative business of designing clothing for the American military. Meanwhile, Bigend has sent another of his employees, the recently-recovered former drug addict Milgrim, on a little industrial espionage trip to check out the competition. Milgrim, who has basically missed most of the last ten years, is Bigend¿s current project. For one thing, he wanted to see if an experimental drug rehab project would actually work. For another, Milgrim¿s tabula rasa state when it comes to pop culture makes him invaluable to someone like Bigend. However, Milgrim is balanced very carefully on a razor¿s edge between complete stability and a slow slide back into his former habits, and his unpredictable nature coupled with the fact that the ¿competition¿ he checked out happened to be a former American Special Ops soldier turned arms dealer throw more than a few monkey wrenches into the plans of both Bigend and Hollis.Fast-paced, edgy, and written in an almost ascetic and concentrated style, this is a near-future thriller set in a time and place that will feel at once out on the edge and also completely familiar to readers. Highly recommended for readers looking for something a little bit different than their usual fare.
Kellswitch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's always hard to describe William Gibson's books, and almost impossible to do without giving away major plot points. Like his previous two books this one is set in current times vs. the future, but it still feels like a science fiction book instead of a contemporary one. Much science fiction is prescient, but he always seems to me to be just one step ahead of where we are actually heading culturally if not technically.The book starts out as a story about an eccentric billionaire, one of the powers behind the scenes for just about everything trying to track down the designer of a "secret" brand of denim clothes and pretty much ends up about as far from that as you can get. Gibson isn't an author for everyone but I've always loved the way he uses words, they way they flow and fit the characters and story perfectly even if I don't always understand what they are saying as they inhabit a world I don't, even when set in modern times. I read this book in two days and had to force myself to put it down when it was time to go to bed.
AsYouKnow_Bob on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book so far this century.Some of that is just me - I seem to be the perfect reader for Gibson's 'Blue Ant' series - but this remains a rollicking good time.
LisatheLibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In the latest William Gibson novel, familiar character Hollis Henry has gone back to work with the strange and eccentric Hubertus Bigend. Gibson weaves several plots within plots as Hollis tracks down the top secret designer of well-made military clothing so Bigend and his company, Blue Ant, can win a military contract. This world of secret fashion and design is filled with same cut-throat competition as the modern Mafia, so while Hollis works on her assignment, Bigend's competitor's hunt her. Meanwhile, Gibson brings back old characters and introduces new ones to flesh out the story in fast, stripped-down prose. This fascinating look at the near future, of secret brands, and the modern economy feels feels fresh, new, and cutting edge; as if this were happening *now* instead of a possible future.
viking2917 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Gibson has an amazing way of writing about the recent past in a way that makes it sound like the future....a fun little caper through secret brands, clothing fetishes, cool hunting, and the financial collapse of Iceland. Vintage Gibson. The ride is fabulous; at the end, one is somewhat left wondering what the point was....and ultimately not caring because the ride was so fun!
PghDragonMan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
William Gibson¿s hard edge is back.While lacking the true raw grit of his earliest cyberpunk works, Zero History manages to feel like a return to the style that brought him such high acclaim. In some ways, this story is a prequel to the characters of his Neuromancer days. Fiona, a messenger of sorts, could be the antecedent of Molly Millions, the body altered bodyguard from his earlier works. Millgram, with a little work and combined with Hollis Henry, could give us Case as a figurative off spring. There are connections there.The pacing of this book reminded me a lot of Pattern Recognition. You will find Hubertus Bigend, and some other characters, in both books, but it is more than just characters that binds these together. There is a palpable tension coming through the pages into the reader¿s mind. This is the edge that made me a fan of Gibson¿s writing.A lot of the back story is filled, so you needn¿t have read the two preceding books to feel up to date. Another big plus for this book is that you are not even aware that you are being filled in. Too many series waste the reader¿s time with tedious flash back scenes and other devices to bring you into the current book¿s time continuum. If you have read the preceding stories, you will probably be able to jump to some conclusions non-initiates might not, but no one¿s enjoyment will be diminished by not having read them.This is a solid five star book, well worth acquiring and reading. More urban metropolitan fantasy / industrial espionage than sci-fi, this book should attract a broad range of readers. While not a Bond Action / Adventure novel, there is enough action to keep fans of that genre happy. The science and technology is cutting edge, but it is also very believeable; the technology depicted exists, it is just the application that is novel.
vanderwal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This third part of William Gibson's trilogy that started with Pattern Recognition all seemed to set in roughly the same time period, but by Zero History it was no longer near future, but today's world (but today is not evenly distributed). It was a good closing for the trilogy, but I was really missing the "so this is there things are going to be in a year or so" moments. It was good a good thriller/suspense book set in very current day.
callmecayce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I have no trouble admitting that William Gibson is my favorite author. I bought this the day it came out, but didn't read it until now. Why? Library books pile up with due dates, books I own do not. I love the Blue Ant series, as it's called, and while I adored Spook Country, I didn't think it was as good as my favorite, Pattern Recognition. But Zero History, on the other hand, was almost perfect. I liked Hollis in SC, but she wasn't Cayce (my favorite). And then I read ZH and I literally fell in love with these characters, from Hollis to Fiona to Garreth to Milgrim. Gibson really pushed a lot of detail into this novel, more than the other two -- or at least in different ways. About a third of the way through I figured out who I thought the Hounds designer was and Gibson all but confirms it at the end (though fans seem to disagree, but I think it's fairly obvious). I'm going to be really bummed if there aren't more books in this series, but ZH is a good one to end on, because it blends the worlds of PR and SC together in a really, really great way. There'sa reason why I love Gibson's writing and Zero History is a great example of that. More, please?
geekpoet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was one of the most boring and slow moving novels I've read in a long time. Even the plot, to find the secretive designer of a pair of pants, was uninteresting. The characters were well rounded and in themselves very interesting, and it was nice to see them change/where-they-are-now since the last novel, but I really could have skipped this. The ending made this feel like an interlude between two actual stories, even the plot of this one was dismissed by one of the main characters as a side-job/small project. I'm left wondering why I should have cared about any of the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago