Zero History Summary
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.
(The entire section is 1,337 words.)