Literary Criticism and Significance
Zero History was critically and commercially well received. The novel is the third in a loosely defined trilogy of novels sometimes referred to as the Bigend trilogy because Hubertus Bigend plays a role in all three. Zero History has been praised for its insights, its plotting, and Gibson’s writing style.
William Gibson has led one of the most acclaimed careers in science fiction, and he is generally credited for coining the term “cyberspace.” Throughout his career, Gibson has explored the influence of technological advances and inventions on the lives of regular people. Gibson has also often focused on the role of large corporations and of the wealthy on individuals from the lower and middle classes. Since his debut novel, Neuromancer, Gibson’s science fiction has arguably become more realistic, focusing on the influence of forums, Twitter, and CCTV rather than on artificial intelligences and cloning. His latest novel can be considered as much in the mystery and spy genres as it is science fiction.
Gibson has generally been applauded for his Bigend trilogy. Although each of the novels in this series can be read individually, “particular nuances of characterization are built up over all three books” (Thomas). Of the three novels, Spook Country has been perhaps the least well received, but several critics have suggested that Gibson’s treatment of Hollis Henry is stronger in Zero History. Gibson also briefly brings Cayce Pollard of Pattern Recognition back, which gives the trilogy a sense of completion.
More than one critic has commented favorably on Gibson’s prose style, particularly the way his writing reflects his social commentary. Writing for The New York Times, Scarlett Thomas suggests that Hollis lives in a “disorientating world of nouns, mirroring our own world, where nouns—things, that is—are dizzyingly paramount.” Zero History comments at length on consumerism and fashion, but it also rewards more abstract readings. Art Taylor concludes that Gibson’s “trenchant scrutiny of society and culture, and the relentless precision of his prose force us to see his world (and ours) with a troubling exactitude and an extra dose of unease.” In particular, Gibson is able to subtly convey an atmosphere of paranoia without devoting a great deal of time to explicitly describing it. Instead, the style and diction of Gibson’s prose as well as his nuanced characterization of Milgrim’s and Hollis’s struggles to work for Bigend are sufficient.
Zero History is likely to be remembered as one of Gibson’s strongest novels. It is well plotted and stunningly well written. It is also a finely crafted finish to the Bigend novels, one capable both of standing on its own and of rewarding careful readers that have followed the previous books, Pattern Recognition and Spook Country.