Ah, hubris. It will get me every single time. Back in 2007 I wrote a review of William Gibson's Spook Country that was glowing. I really enjoy reading William Gibson and sung the praises of virtually everything he wrote that I had read (click on the link above to read of my worshipping at the Gibson altar). Then comes the quasi-sequel, Zero History. Many of the same characters appear - Hollis Henry, the highly idiosyncratic ex-punk band singer now freelance journalist, Hubertus Bigend, the even more highly idiosyncratic global marketing/advertising magnate (and more than part-time seer with a touch of paranoid megalomaniac thrown in), and Milgrim, the junkie then ex-junkie with perfect idiomatic Russian and phenomenal "hide-in-plain-sight" skills, and various and assorted other minor characters.
The problem is that the cool ideas (of which there are a few, but much, much fewer than either Spook Country or Pattern Recognition) can't outrun the blandness of the plot (relative to his past efforts). Things happen in Zero History, but I can't always really figure out why. Hubertus is a bit obtuse and opaque, Hollis is unfocused and then lucky, and Milgrim is programmed and manipulated but weirdly attached to the story. In Pattern Recognition, Hubertus and Cayce Pollard have real insights into the nature of the modern world of branding and youth culture and the critique and understanding of modern marketing is sharp and crisp. In Spook Country, Hollis does real investigative reporting - putting interesting clues together in ways most people could not and Milgrim, while still a bit ephemeral, is strangely interesting. Zero History has none of that connective tissue....yes, some things happened, but I often lost the thread or found it either entirely obvious or coming out of left field.
The other frustration with the book is the fact that the most interesting characters are relegated to minor roles....Two former members of Hollis's band, The Curfew, make appearances, but are not highly developed. Heidi, who has a terrific sense of the absurd, a terrific addition to heavy-duty violent exercise, and a philosophy that is some strange combination of samurai, US Marine Corps, and George Carlin turns in a too small, but more interesting than Hollis appearance. Inchmale (ex-drummer?) is a hot shot music producer who is only alluded to as a semi-magical god of getting the best performance out of anybody -- but exists only by reference. Hollis's ex-but then not-ex boyfriend Gareth has some very interesting inclinations and history as in he jumps off the highest building in the world, and has the kind of friends that make people disappear and things go boom comes in at the end, but even then is more a presence than a character. The book would have been improved by having them be more central to the character development and action.
Do not get me wrong -- all in, William Gibson is always interesting, has very cool insights into the world in which we live, and creates interesting characters. I did not dislike this book but Zero History is not one of his best by a long shot. If you have not read William Gibson before, do not start here. Go back to my review of Spook Country (click this link) and get any one one of his books pictured at the bottom of the review.