Count Zero

William Gibson
Count Zero Cover

Count Zero


"Eyes open, he pulled the thing from his socket and held it, his palm slick with sweat. It was like waking from a nightmare. Not a screamer, where impacted fears took on simple, terrible shapes, but the sort of dream, infinitely more disturbing, where everything is utterly wrong ..." (p.30)

Count Zero is the second book in Gibson's Sprawl trilogy. It is not a direct sequel to Neuromancer, but it does develop some of the themes and ideas Gibson used in his seminal first novel. It's a more mature, more ambitious work than Neuromancer, telling the stories of three main characters: Turner, a mercenary-for-hire; Bobby, a young console-cowboy; and Marly, a former art gallery owner.

Like its predecessor, Count Zero is not an easy read. Gibson has no time for info-dumps, being a proponent of the "show, don't tell" school of storytelling. This means we are dropped into the middle of the author's universe and need to hit the ground running as we try to keep up. It can be challenging at times, and may require a few re-reads of parts of the book, but it is so worth it.

Strange things are happening in cyberspace. Unexplained encounters with sentient beings are being reported by console cowboys travelling through the Matrix. Are they simply hallucinations or could there be ghosts in the machines? Whatever they may be, they have attracted the attention of some powerful individuals. I was intrigued by the forms Gibson used to represent these entities, which I won't mention here.

Out in the "real" world, two powerful zaibatsus, "Maas Biolabs" and "Hosaka", are fighting over an emerging new technology called "biochips". The creator of said technology, Christopher Mitchell, is attempting to jump ship from one multinational to the other. This is where Turner comes in as he is hired to run the team handling the extraction.

I am a huge fan of Neuromancer. It took me three separate, spaced-apart reads to fully appreciate Gibson's 1984 game-changer. Is Count Zero as good as Neuromancer? It's difficult to say. Count Zero is a brilliant book, which is more ambitious than its predecessor. But its complexity might put some readers off.

Speaking subjectively, I prefer the younger, rawer Neuromancer, though only just. It was a brave move by Gibson to resist the temptation to pen a direct sequel to it. He could easily have continued the adventures of the characters from the first book. Instead, he has written a complex, mature, original cyberpunk thriller set in the same Sprawl universe, with just enough notes of familiarity to any neuromancers out there.