Count Zero: A brief review

It’s difficult to believe that this is the sequel to Neuromancer.  This book is good.  Very good.  In fact, reading it has challenged me to reconsider some of my notions about literature.  I used to believe that the only way to affirm meaning in a text was by explicitly affirming agency.  How naive that was.  Yet the difference between the absolute nihilism of Neuromancer and the dignified humanity in Count Zero was all accomplished with just the slightest of changes.

Gibson still maintains his strong sense of class consciousness, denigrating the rich, but it matters less because he does so within a consistent context.  The theme is also one level removed from the authorial voice, existing as a sentiment of Gibson’s characters themselves.  Both the context in which Gibson writes and the ownership of emotions which Gibson grants to his characters are very significant improvements over the prequel, and resolve most of my difficulties with it.  In fact, upon reflection it seems like these may be the only significant improvements, although the prose has improved as well.

The book doesn’t suffer from the pacing difficulties of Neuromancer either.  That isn’t too much of a concern to me, nor is it something which I can speak about in great detail.  The striking thing about Count Zero is that the sense of meaninglessness found in Neuromancer still exists, but meaninglessness is no longer an explicit, structural element of Gibson’s world.  Even in the allusions to the previous book, a more optimistic tone can be felt.  If Neuromancer was the book that Count Zero would have us believe, then it would deserve every bit as much praise as Count Zero itself.

Instead of simply telling us the world is meaningless, Gibson uses subtle symbolism, told through the eyes of his characters to make the issue into a question; and one with an ambivalent answer.  Our street samurai in this adventure has a flashback similar to the protagonist from the first book, but this time it is not wasted; not by any stretch of the imagination.  He remembers looking a woman in the eye, as a human being.  Her eyes are cybernetic implants, very expensive, given to her by her employers.  A week later she has been blown apart by a landmine.  The samurai contemplates this issue in an airport with the help of alcohol.  Then he sees someone familiar, a colleague of sorts, carrying a case.  “What’s in the case?” he asks.  An answer.

Several years later, he has a revelation of his own mortality.  It brings memories of the event to the surface, and he reacts to it for the very first time.  Here is the heart of the story.  We see a character who views two different possibilities of human nature simultaneously; one with meaning, one without meaning; and reacts accordingly.  Gibson’s focus is moved from meaninglessness itself to a depiction of feelings of meaninglessness.  In his focus on the despondency of the poor, this theme continues to carry.  At any rate though, it is just a feeling.  It is not made into any sort of grand metaphysical statement.

It is in this capacity that Count Zero affirms meaning, not by explicitly declaring it, but by focusing on the possibility of its absence.  Every contemplation of the question of meaning flirts with nihilism but without embracing it.  This works like Ipecac, inducing a state which in itself is undesirable, but which terminates in a powerful cleansing effect.  The ending of this book is exceptional, but more to the point, it is correct.  In many ways it is the opposite of its predecessor.

If this is Gibson’s atonement for the sins he committed, then he deserves to be forgiven.  I look forward to finishing the trilogy.  If the quality of thought increased this much from the first book to the second, then the third might be quite interesting.

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~ by Kilroy del Dancefighter Estallion the First on January 2, 2010.

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