They plot with men, my other selves, and men imagine they are gods.
Several years have passed since Molly and Case freed the AI who calls himself Neuromancer. Neuromancer’s been busy and now his plots have widened to involve several people whom we meet in Count Zero:
Turner is a recently reconstructed mercenary who’s been hired by the Hosaka Corporation to extract Christopher Mitchell and his daughter Angie from Mitchell’s job at Maas Biolabs. Mitchell is the creator of the world’s first biochip, and he’s secretly agreed to move to Hosaka. Extracting an indentured research scientist is a deadly game, but Turner is one of the best.
Bobby “Count Zero” Newmark, who wants to be a console cowboy, has just pulled a Wilson (that means he majorly screwed up) on his first attempt at running an unknown icebreaker. He nearly died in the matrix but was saved by a girl he’d never seen before. Now he’s freaked out, on the run, and buildings are exploding behind him as he’s being hunted by a mysterious helicopter with a rocket launcher.
Marly Krushkova lost her art gallery after her boyfriend tried to sell a forgery. Now she’s been hired by Joseph Virek, the world’s richest man, to find the artist who’s creating and selling some strange shadowboxes. These expensive and enigmatic objets d’art seem like collections of random pieces of junk, but they speak to Marly. Using her intuition, and Joseph Virek’s money, she hopes to find the unknown artist.
Other memorable characters are the voodoo priests and priestesses, The Finn, Tally Isham the Sense/Net celebrity, the prophet Wigan Ludgate who thinks God lives in the matrix, a bar owner named Jammer, and a whole mob of Gothicks and Kasuals. All of their stories eventually collide as we discover who’s haunting cyberspace.
Count Zero is the first sequel to William Gibson’s cyberpunk classic Neuromancer. If you haven’t read Neuromancer yet, you’ll probably be lost because Gibson just drops you into his world without instructions, explanations, or technical support. Even though you think you’ve been to his world before (it’s Earth after all), you haven’t, and Gibson never tells us what happened to make it unrecognizable. It appears that large biotech companies are in control (or maybe I should say they’re out of control) and there are no authorities to check their ruthless behaviors. What happened to the U.S. government? Why are so many cities ruined and abandoned? What is “the war” that people keep referring to? Where is the middle class? There are still rich people who buy art, wear stylish clothes, and set trends for the masses, but many of those who try to keep up are illiterate, addicted, and without electricity and clean water. They escape their lives with designer drugs and by plugging into cheap simstim fantasies.
It’s partly these questions, which are never answered, that make Neuromancer’s sequel work so well. Many sequels feel pallid because the world and the characters are no longer new and exciting, but Gibson avoids sequel stagnancy by creating a gaudy and grueling world that we feel like we should understand, and making us desperate for more information (but rarely delivering it).
It also helps that in each book of the Sprawl trilogy, we have new characters to get to know. And you have to admire Gibson’s characters. Not as people, perhaps, but as characters. For example, Bobby (Count Zero) is a total loser. He’s like that obnoxious kid in high school who was always trying so hard to make people like him. Gibson gets this just right, never explaining Bobby to us, but letting us gradually figure him out just by listening to him talk or by seeing things from his perspective. This is carefully and cleverly done for every character.
The plot of Count Zero is fascinating, unique, and unpredictable as Gibson finally brings together all of these weird and colorful events and characters. There are some answers in the end, and the story’s connection to Neuromancer is eventually made clear. But there are many questions left to answer, so after you finish Count Zero, you’ll want to have Mona Lisa Overdrive, the concluding novel of the Sprawl trilogy, ready to go.
I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version of Count Zero which was read by one of my favorite voice actors, Jonathan Davis. He is always wonderful and his grimy and jaded male voices are perfect for this kind of novel. My only issue is one I’ve had with Davis before: he has essentially one female voice. I have listened to so many books read by Mr. Davis that I actually feel like this one woman is showing up in all these different novels. (Hey, what are Thecla and Agia and Vlana and Ivrian doing in the Sprawl??) Count Zero has only a few female characters who don’t overlap much, so Davis does well with this story, but I’ll be listening for Angie and Marly next time I’m in Lankhmar.