Count Zero ( 1986 ) by William Gibson is book two of the Sprawl Trilogy. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this book. I have not read it as many times as Neuromancer, the Hugo ,Nebulus and PK Dick Award winning first book of the series but I’ve still read Count Zero at least 5 times. The first time I read it I was 14 and the idea that a vast global network would arise and become a haven for hackers who were cool was something that startled me. If I could make any series into a TV min-series length show this would be it. Despite the dire film that was Johnny Mnemonic there is still hope that one day someone will adapt this well. If they do it could be superb.
The story is split into three sub-stories. One is about Turner, a hired mercenary who performs corporate defection work. He is assigned to extract a scientist called Mitchel from Mass Neotek. Another is the story of a young hacker, Bobby Newmark, who obtains new black market hacking software and gets rapidly into trouble. The other story is about Marly Krushkova, an art dealer who is assigned to find the source of strange artistic boxes by the industrialist Josef Virek.
The stories are better done and the characters are more believable than those in Neuromancer. The book isn’t as good as Neuromancer but the story is interesting on its own and the way it fits into the whole Sprawl Trilogy is clever. Gibson became a better writer through the series and through his later books. Unfortunately he would not have the ideas that power the trilogy and were so far sighted at the time and even now have held up reasonably. Still, Gibson was the first star of Cyberpunk and he and Bruce Sterling wrote what is probably the first major successful steam punk book in The Difference Engine so he’s a very successful writer who has had a great deal of influence.
The picture of the matrix and what has arisen since Gibson wrote the book is interesting to compare. Gibson coined the word Cyberspace in a short story a few years earlier. The connectivity of the internet is pretty much where Gibson thought his 50-100 year away matrix was likely to be. The interface is very different though. Instead of people flying through 3D worlds of information we instead click links. Instead of hyper-secret data stores the net is more likely to hold the random blatherings of millions of blogs, just like this one. But Gibson’s vision inspired quite a few people and showed people what was possible. The central story of the Sprawl Trilogy is also something that could just occur. It’s a fun thought to keep out there.
The book has it’s flaws, but it still really does provide exciting, thought provoking sci-fi entertainment.