`Zero History` is a fascinating tale

Last Updated: Sep 15, 2010, 12:43 PM IST

London: It`s fitting that the latest novel from the man credited with coining the word "cyberspace" is littered with references to the cyber-toys of 21st-century life.

In William Gibson`s ‘Zero History,’ a thriller about the search for the designer of a mysterious, highly sought-after underground clothing brand, characters flash iPhones, do Google searches, communicate through Twitter and rely on GPS tracking devices with almost addictive fervour.

Gibson has created a world that seems futuristic yet is tinged with retro touches, including constant references to `80s pop culture, faded fashion trends and H.G. Wells fiction. It is distinctly familiar, yet somehow disorienting.

The intricate, at times confusing, story line centres on Hubertus Bigend, a wealthy, powerful — and ultimately distasteful — businessman who reels Milgrim, a recovering drug addict, and Hollis Henry, a former rock star, into his quest to secure a contract for U.S. military uniforms. Bigend also wants to track down the designer behind Gabriel Hounds, an off-market clothing line.

His pursuits put Bigend — and his increasingly reluctant recruits — at odds with a retired Special Forces officer-turned-arms dealer, leading to a highly choreographed showdown.

At its weakest, "Zero History" relies on an overly complex, less-than-compelling plot. It`s difficult for anyone except the most hardcore fashionista to get excited about the search for a brand of jeans.

However, at its best, Gibson`s latest work is a fascinating running commentary on a culture ruled by brand names, electronic gadgets and constant, ever-more intrusive methods of surveillance.

Like Milgrim, Gibson displays a keenly observant eye for detail and layers his novel with descriptions of iconic pop culture artefacts such as Kangol caps and B.U.M. Equipment sweat pants.

Ultimately, the dizzying ride through a landscape of label-dropping and brand names produces what one character calls "an allergy" to logos, corporate mascots and "any concentrated graphic representation of corporate identity."

Not a bad takeaway in an age when personal branding and product placement are the order of the day.

Bureau Report

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