Cyberpunk Review: Count Zero
Well, I finally finished it.
Count Zero by William Gibson is book two in the Sprawl trilogy, three loosely connected books sharing the same universe. Count Zero is a sequel to the titular Neuromancer and is followed by Mona Lisa Overdrive.
I felt like Count Zero went over my head a bit, but also, it felt like the kind of book that you really need to pay attention to in order to understand and consequently enjoy, and if you have a busy life or a short attention span like I do, then maybe it isn’t for you. The main difference between Count Zero and Neuromancer is that instead of following one main character, there are three separate main characters, with seemingly disconnected plotlines that eventually weave together at the very end (and I mean very end).
New Cyberpunk Characters
Bobby Newmark (Count Zero)
Bobby is a young aspiring console cowboy, wanting to prove his worth when he quickly finds himself in over his head when he’s given a biosoft chip to evaluate that almost kills him when he jacks into cyberspace. His story is a more standard Cyberpunk tale that we are perhaps more familiar with after Neuromancer.
Marly is a has-been art gallery curator in Paris who suffered a small scandal when she unwittingly sold a very expensive piece of art that ended up being a fake. She ends up being hired by a wealthy arts patron to uncover the creator of “art-boxes”, and is given an unlimited line of credit to do so. Her story is more of an unraveling mystery, in a film-noir style.
Turner is an ex-mercenary who is brought back from retirement to help organize the defection of a high-value employee who wants to leave his current mega-corporation and join another. His story is more action-packed than the other two.
And what is the book about? Well, these three characters and their own private missions and life paths, I guess. When the biosoft chip bobby is given almost kills him, he ends up on the run from those who want to take the chip for themselves, while trying to get the chip into the hands of whomever can make Bobby safe again.
As for Marly, she is given the opportunity of a lifetime–an almost no-strings attached unlimited credit line to help a wealthy benefactor find the creator of certain works of art-boxes. Unfortunately, this wealthy benefactor is also known for his egotistical, nefarious ways.
Finally, Turner’s multi-layered mission ends up going completely differently than planned, as an unexpected attack and surprise pieces come into play. We largely follow Turner as he adapts to the ever-changing conditions of his misson, as he tries to stay alive.
Cyberpunk Dialogues and Descriptions
Gibson once again showcases his brilliant skill at painting an image of these characters with his knack for dialogue. This time around I felt his descriptions were even better than before, with a little less dialogue compared to Neuromancer. The three settings are Japan, the US, and France, but the characters eventually move around a bit.
“And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.”–Marly Krushkova
The problem I had with this novel is that Gibson likes writing as if we understand what he’s talking about (my same small issue with Neuromancer), and part of his appeal is figuring out what indeed he’s talking about and recognizing the puzzle pieces he carefully lays out for us. If you don’t get those puzzle pieces, or you simply don’t want to play the game, then you may lose interest in this novel, as I did. While Marly’s narrative had very few moving pieces and was very easy to follow, the other two, Turner and Bobby’s narratives, often had enough characters coming and going that I had a difficult time following what was going on. I also felt like I missed a lot of these references and allusions, which led me to being confused a lot of the time.
Lack of Connection
My biggest problem with the story, however, is that there is no clear goal that the three characters are working towards. It was easy for me to put this book down because at the end of the day, I simply didn’t care if these characters lived or died, and that’s usually a problem when reading a book. There was no connection built between me and these characters, and while they eventually do have a little character development by the end of the story to make them interesting, it wasn’t enough to keep me hooked.
Final Verdict: 6/10
Because of its great descriptions, dialogue, and the subtle hints that are very enjoyable to catch, this novel may delight some. However, for me, it was slow, confusing, and without any clear end goal to want me to keep reading and lacked a clear connection with the characters I was reading about. Nonetheless, as a second novel in the sprawl trilogy, and if you are a fan of William Gibson, I can definitely recommend this book.