Zero History by William Gibson

Zero History

Zero History is [Gibson’s] best yet, a triumph of science fiction as social criticism and adventure.”—

Hollis Henry worked for the global marketing magnate Hubertus Bigend once before. She never meant to repeat the experience. But she’s broke, and Bigend never feels it’s beneath him to use whatever power comes his way — in this case, the power of money to bring Hollis onto his team again. Not that she knows what the “team” is up to, not at first.

Milgrim is even more thoroughly owned by Bigend. He’s worth owning for his useful gift of seeming to disappear in almost any setting, and his Russian is perfectly idiomatic – so much so that he spoke Russian with his therapist, in the secret Swiss clinic where Bigend paid for him to be cured of the addiction that would have killed him.

Garreth has a passion for extreme sports. Most recently he jumped off the highest building in the world, opening his chute at the last moment, and he has a new thighbone made of rattan baked into bone, entirely experimental, to show for it.  Garreth isn’t owned by Bigend at all. Garreth has friends from whom he can call in the kinds of favors that a man like Bigend will find he needs, when things go unexpectedly sideways, in a world a man like Bigend is accustomed to controlling.

As when a Department of Defense contract for combat-wear turns out to be the gateway drug for arms dealers so shadowy that even Bigend, whose subtlety and power in the private sector would be hard to overstate, finds himself outmaneuvered and adrift in a seriously dangerous world.

“His eye for the eerie in the everyday still lends events an otherworldly sheen.”The New Yorker

“Gibson’s ability to hit the sweet spot of cutting-edge culture is uncanny.”The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A writer who can conjure the numinous out of the quotidian.”The Washington Post Book World

“William Gibson can craft sentences of uncanny beauty, and is our great poet of crowds.”San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

Zero History is [Gibson’s] best yet, a triumph of science fiction as social criticism and adventure.”—

  1. What effect does Blue Ant have on art and technology? Where should corporations draw the line when it comes to high art and consumer art?  How can big business and the military play a role in nurturing art rather than bastardizing it for financial gain?
  2. “Secrets are the very root of cool.” The major players in this series exist solely to expose or protect undisclosed information. Compare Hobbs Baranov’s “old-boy networks,” Hubertus Bigend’s “viral agency,” and the old man’s covert operatives. How do these groups measure up to Cayce Pollard’s Gabriel Hounds company, Stella Volkov’s Film Footage family, and Dorotea Benedetti’s international associates? Which of these characters have access to the most heavily guarded intel? While Bigend, “wishes [his agency] could operate as a black hole, an absence,” are any of these groups actually untouchable? Why or why not?
  3. Milgram has an addiction to painkillers. Cayce Pollard has an unusual aversion to logos. Bobby Chombo cannot sleep in the same space twice. Where do think these allergies, addictions and obsessive behaviors come from? What do these conditions say about each individual? What other unusual personality disorders appear throughout these stories? How do these traits define these characters?
  4. Keiko, the flying penguin and Mama Anarchia are all modern tools of deception. Discuss the ways in which technology can be utilized to create false identities. How do these artificial characters successfully distract, mislead and deceive in Gibson’s world?
  5. “They broke laws, but they weren’t crooks.” Examine how certain characters are driven by a sense of patriotism. Does this devotion to their own country blind them from making decisions on a multinational level? Explain. Give examples of when patriotism usurps a character’s perception of morality?
  6. Gibson’s characters derive power from knowledge, technology and money. Which character stands to lose the most power if one of these elements were taken away? How would such an event change that individual’s drive for success?
  7. Describe the relationship between Milgram and Brown? How do their roles as captor and hostage evolve over time? What incidents stand out as pivotal in the shift of power between these two men? How would the situation have differed if Milgram weren’t an addict?
  8. Several characters are introduced or exposed gradually as double agents. Analyze these two-faced individuals and identify the motivation for their actions. Do they all shift from ally to adversary in each story? If so, do any of them ever see the error of their ways and redeem themselves?
  9. How are government agencies portrayed in these stories? Which characters are directly influenced by the private sector? How have these agencies changed through the eyes of these characters in a post cold war and post 9/11 world?
  10. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, a sister’s devotion or a mother and daughter’s bond, family plays an important role in all three of these stories. Evaluate the positive and negative influences familial relationships have on Cayce, Stella, Fiona and others.
  11. A general feeling of mistrust is interwoven into almost every character’s life. In what ways do Cayce, Hollis and others exhibit this sentiment? Are they justified in their thinking? Why? Which character(s) allows their suspicions to sway their actions? Which character(s) prevents paranoia from influencing their decisions?
  12. Evaluate the communities formed by culture, common interest or political affiliation in these stories. Do the locations of their existence, either in the real world or exclusively online, affect the level of allegiance among its members? Which characters feel torn between multiple communities and why?
  13. How do mobile phone technology, social media and wifi impact the level of security in the lives of Gibson’s characters? Which character would be the easiest to monitor regardless of location? Which character is immune to all three forms of “tracking?”
  14. “A nation consists of laws. A nation does not consist of its situation at a given time. If an individual’s morals are situational, that individual is without morals. If a nation’s laws are situational, that nation has no laws and soon isn’t a nation.” Discuss how this Rize-induced statement by Milgram would resonate with other characters in this series. What does this quote say about Milgram and how he views the world? How do you think this idea affected Brown?
  15. We’re introduced to several villains or opposing forces throughout this series. Which character or group of characters do you feel are the most ruthless in accomplishing their goal and why?
  16. Compare and contrast the following couples: Cayce Pollard & Peter “Parkaboy” Gilbert, Hollis Henry & Garreth Wilson, and Milgram and Fiona. What qualities make each pair successful in love and business? What flaws and incompatible traits hinder each partnership? Which couple do you feel is best matched? Identify other notable duos, romantic or platonic, that appear in this series.