Fashion Police And Trendsetter Spies: “Zero History” by William Gibson

Copyright © 2010 by William Gibson.

‘It’s an obsession with the idea not just of the right stuff, but of the special stuff. Equipment fetishism.  The costume and semiotics of achingly elite police and military units.  Intense desire to possess same, of course, and in turn to be associated with that world.  With its competence, its cocksure exclusivity.’

‘Sounds like fashion, to me.’

‘Exactly.  Pants, but only just the right ones.  We could never have engineered so powerful a locus of consumer desire.  It’s like sex in a bottle’ (Gibson 206).

And so, at last, we come to Zero History, the final installment of the “Bigend Books” series by science fiction author William Gibson.  We see the culmination of a process begun in Pattern Recognition and refined in Spook Country.

Let’s get down to brass tacks!

The Story: What You’re Wearing Isn’t A Crime, Just A Matter Of National Security

Hubertus Bigend, giant of the Blue Ant advertising agency, has his sights set on a secret fashion label known as Gabriel Hounds.  To sniff out this brand and its source, he calls upon his newest marginal employees, Hollis Henry and Milgrim.  Along the way, they encounter ex-covert operatives and other adrenaline junkies, all tied to the same quest for the elusive Gabriel Hounds.  It’s a quest that not only draws the wrong kind of attention from the US military, but from Bigend himself, who might not be as strong as he seems…

The Cast: Amateur Spies Vs. The Military’s Guys

Hollis Henry returns as the protagonist for our story, giving us her cynical take on working for Bigend.  Her storyline is interesting because she slowly begins to grow independent of Bigend, trying to keep up with her boyfriend Garreth (introduced near the end of the last story) and wanting to know about Gabriel Hounds for herself.

Milgrim is the deuteragonist, coming off a little better than he did in Spook Country.  For one thing, he starts off the story having come out of rehab at Blue Ant’s expense and tries to focus on doing the field work necessary to track down the Gabriel Hounds designer.  It’s often noted that his ability to spot small details makes him a valuable field agent, although, like Hollis, he also begins to separate himself from Bigend’s circle and seek out his own view on the world.

The Theme: Drawing The Line On Security And Safety

The connection between military uniforms and fashion trends is one of the central themes at work in Zero History.  It shows up in the Gabriel Hounds clothing line, which leads to a subtle jump on how the military and the security policies of the post-9/11 world are affecting us as a global society.  Besides Milgrim and others trying to act like Special Forces operatives, we get to see civilian use of unmanned drones and interaction with the Defense Criminal Investigative Service (DCIS).  We see inventive uses of Twitter and smartphones as espionage tools and how the paranoid can both thrive and flounder in the modern era.

Final Verdict: A Gripping Read And Required Reading For Today’s Writers

Overall, this is a mature end to the trilogy.  We get some good character development for Hollis and Milgrim, the introduction of Garreth from the second book and Voytek from the first was cleverly handled, and I’m impressed with the reveal of the Gabriel Hounds designer and just why the brand is so baffling yet alluring to Bigend.

Like I’ve said before, Gibson knows how to write about the present day.  It’s easy to fudge details or make something up for the sake of a cool story, but he does his research and even collaborated with other authors like Cory Doctorow and Bruce Sterling to get some of the technology applications just right.  It’s a testament to his creative vision and makes it easier to feel immersed in his stories.

Rhapsodist Edit: Happy Second Anniversary to this blog and its readers!  Here’s to a third, a fourth, and however many more are in store!

Bibliography: Gibson, William.  Zero History.  Viking, 2010.


One thought on “Fashion Police And Trendsetter Spies: “Zero History” by William Gibson

  1. Hello, I recently picked up a collection of William Gibson novels at my local Friends of the Library Bookstore and was reading through them. I read Zero History about two months ago, and found your blog while looking for some insight into the novel.
    I thought the novel neglected expanding on the very interesting theme of fashion. After reading ZH I began to think about the future of, well, pants. Historically, I noticed the Japanese would wear wide pants called hakama, and the reason was that the hakama would hide the movement of your hips in a sword fight. This prevented your opponent from easily predicting your strike. Some European sword fighters also would wear pants with exaggerated waist material as well for similar reasons.
    There is also the aspects of robes (for the priesthood and judges) and the mask (domino mask) that could have been explored.


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