A handful of rebel hackers and mercenaries fighting sinister corporate oligarchies. It’s a formula that we’ve seen countless times in modern sci-fi, but it was the work of William Gibson that set down the standards in the first place. And nowhere it is more evident than in the second book of his “Sprawl trilogy,” Count Zero.
Set a few years after the events of Neuromancer, the story follows three different plot threads, all of which intersect in a curious way at the end. One thread deals with a corporate mercenary named Turner who’s trying to help the inventor of the “biochip” defect from his company, while trying to determine just what this biochip is and what it means for the future. Then there’s Marly Krushkova, a scandalized art dealer in Paris who’s hired to locate a mysterious art collection at the request of the exceptionally wealthy but dangerous tycoon Josef Virek. And then there’s poor Bobby Newmark, a wannabe console cowboy whose first ride through cyberspace lands him in the middle of a major corporate mess that only a handful of determined voodoo practitioners can get him out of.
I’ve got to admit that I was a little confused when reading this story. I love the way Gibson writes, but I found it a little difficult to juggle three different storylines, even though they all connect by the end. And I do like how he managed to keep his fictional world of “the Sprawl” intact, letting a new series of characters have some adventures instead of just relying on old ones like Case and Molly. I also felt deeply for all three of the main characters just as much as I did for Case in Neuromancer, although it was easier in the case of the latter, as there was only the one protagonist to follow. But if I had to rank or compare the three major storylines, I would say that Turner’s is the most action-packed, Marly’s is the most unusual, and Bobby’s is the easiest with connect with.
Regardless, Count Zero is an excellent sequel to Neuromancer, both in expanding our view of Gibson’s fictional setting and following up on the impact of the events in the previous story. And because of that success, I’m very interested in seeing where he takes us in the last book of the trilogy, Mona Lisa Overdrive.
Bibliography: Gibson, William. Count Zero. New York: Ace Books, 1986.