Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1337
William Gibson’s Zero History is the third of a series of novels sometimes referred to as "the Bigend trilogy" because Hubertus Bigend is the only character to appear in all three books. Zero History takes place after Pattern Recognition and Spook Country. The protagonists of this novel are Hollis Henry and Milgrim, who were first introduced in Spook Country. Zero History’s chapters alternate between Hollis’s and Milgrim’s perspective. Zero History is a cross between a spy novel, a mystery, and a science fiction thriller that explores ideas related fashion, marketing, and the impact of technology on our lives.
Hubertus Bigend is the head of Blue Ant, a wealthy marketing corporation. Bigend has gained his wealth and status thanks to his radical ideas about marketing. However, his true obsession may be with secrets, and he claims that the ultimate secret would be the next day’s Order Flow, information about all the orders of the stock market. That secret may be impossible to discover, but Bigend hopes to find out who is creating Gabriel Hounds, a new brand of clothing that appears to have taken his marketing ideas to a new level. He contacts Hollis Henry, who has worked for Blue Ant before, to help him find the creative force behind Gabriel Hounds.
Gabriel Hounds clothing is well made and timeless. One character takes the time to argue that the design behind Hounds clothing is “real, not fashion.” Certainly, it is tangibly real, and Hollis is often struck by how heavy the denim of Gabriel Hounds is. Hounds jeans are also pitch black. The brand has found a following, but it is actually a secret brand. Gabriel Hounds does not follow fashion seasons or release schedules. There are no Gabriel Hounds retail outlets.
Although Hollis has vowed never to work again with Bigend after the events detailed in Spook Country, she has lost half of her assets in the economic collapse. As the former lead singer of the now disbanded rock group the Curfew, Hollis’s enduring popularity helps her find the secret artist behind Gabriel Hounds. In fact, Hollis is able to quickly find someone that has actually bought Hounds clothing in Melbourne, Australia.
Meanwhile, Milgrim—who is known only as Milgrim—is a recovering addict on a separate mission for Bigend. At the start of the novel, Milgrim and his minder, Sleight, are engaging in corporate espionage. Milgrim meets with a party from another company to photograph their new line of pants. Milgrim returns to London to show his photos to Bigend and his design staff. It is revealed that Bigend hopes to begin designing clothing for the American military. Gibson points out that men’s fashion in the twentieth century is largely based on American military designs, but in the twenty-first century the designs have become less interesting than street wear. Bigend hopes to step into this “recession proof” industry.
Up to this point, Milgrim’s job has been to find out what Bigend’s potential competitors have been working on. However, Milgrim is given a new mission when Bigend partners Hollis and Milgrim. Together, they travel to Paris, hoping to meet a woman who will lead them to the creator of Gabriel Hounds. Milgrim deduces that Bigend is hoping to get a designer’s contract with the American military. After all, the iconic design of Gabriel Hounds may well prove an asset to Bigend’s aspirations to revive America’s military fashion.
In Paris, Zero History begins to introduce elements of an espionage novel. When Milgrim and Hollis arrive in Paris, they discover that a man in foliage green pants is following them; Milgrim dubs him “Foley.” Soon after, a woman photographs Milgrim. She turns out to be Winnie Tung Whitaker, and she works for the American Department of Defense. How is Foley following Milgrim and Hollis? Milgrim discovers that his phone is being used by Sleight and Foley to track his movements. He ditches the phone in the pocket of a member of the Russian mafia.
It turns out that Sleight has entered into an agreement to betray Bigend to Michael Preston Gracie, an arms dealer who is looking to land a contract producing for the American military as a means of legitimizing his illicit profits. Winnie wants to arrest Gracie hopes to at least slow him down by alerting Bigend to the threat posed by Gracie.
Meanwhile, Hollis tracks down Meredith, a former model and shoe designer. Meredith can put Hollis in touch with the designer of Gabriel Hounds. Meredith was unable to profit from her shoes and lost all of her products. However, she believes that her shoes are still stored somewhere and that she could make money selling them on eBay. Meredith agrees to give up the identity of the Gabriel Hounds designer if Bigend can find and retrieve her shoes. However, just as Hollis gets approval for the deal, Meredith changes her mind. She will not sell Gabriel Hounds to Bigend. Hollis realizes that she feels the same and decides to quit when she returns to London.
However, the focus on finding the creator of Gabriel Hounds becomes overshadowed by the threat of Michael Preston Gracie. Back in London, Hollis learns that her ex-boyfriend Garreth, who is a mysterious cross between a freelance spy and a prankster, has been injured base-jumping off the tallest building in the world. Realizing that she still loves him, Hollis contacts Garreth.
Meanwhile, Miglrim informs Bigend of Foley, of Sleight’s treachery, of Winnie’s involvement, and of the threat posed by Gracie. Surprisingly, Bigend takes this news very calmly, claiming that he has dealt with arms dealers before. Of more concern to him is Sleight’s betrayal. Sleight is in charge of Bigend’s information technology department. Worse, it seems that many members of Blue Ant are in the midst of a corporate coup. Bigend claims this rebellion is part of the natural cycle of Blue Ant, but he does not know whom to trust. In the meantime, he partners Milgrim with Fiona, a motorcycle courier.
Foley arrives in London and attacks Milgrim to get revenge for Milgrim’s Russian gangster trick in Paris. Hollis and Milgrim escape with Fiona. Upon returning to her hotel, Hollis finds that Garreth has arrived in London. However, Foley and his associates next kidnap Chombo, a computer expert who is of great importance to Bigend. They demand an exchange of men: Chombo for Milgrim.
Because he is in a weak position with his company, Bigend is seriously considering giving up Milgrim. However, Garreth argues that he can put something “off the shelf” together that will allow him to rescue Chombo and save Milgrim. In return for this, he demands Bigend’s assurance that Blue Ant will never contact Hollis again. Hollis demands that Bigend also give up his search for the Gabriel Hounds creator.
In the midst of preparations, Milgrim and Fiona start a relationship as Hollis and Garreth resume their relationship. Hollis also receives an invitation to meet the designer of Gabriel Hounds. Though she is not named, it turns out that the designer is Cayce Pollard, the protagonist from Gibson’s first Bigend novel, Pattern Recognition. Pollard explains the philosophy behind her design as a resistance against corporate branding, but she acknowledges that Gabriel Hounds has reached a breaking point at which they will have to go public. Bigend will soon know who the designer of Gabriel Hounds is, but not before everyone else does.
Ultimately, Garreth’s plan works, though it does not go exactly as planned. Gracie is arrested. Bigend regains Chombo as well as control over Blue Ant. Some people now speculate that Bigend is so powerful that it is impossible for his business decisions to fail. Milgrim deduces that Chombo has unlocked the secret of the Order Flow, knowledge that will only serve to make Bigend even more powerful. Hollis and Garreth move to Berlin and plan to marry, though Hollis still has nightmares about Hubertus Bigend.
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