Wednesday 12 December 2012

Zero History

William Gibson, 2010
(December 2012)

More hipster shit.
Actually no, not really. I’ll have to withdraw that accusation as it’s grossly inaccurate. But not entirely so, which is kind of at the nub of things.

Almost exactly a year ago, while reading Virtual Light, I was especially struck by the perils of setting speculative fiction in the near future. Specifically the manner in which that future inevitably and rapidly becomes the past. The Bigend books, and Zero History in particular, seem almost specifically designed to address exactly that issue: the ephemerality or otherwise of contemporary cultures (literary, consumer, counter, take your pick).

And, of course, by situating themselves so very firmly in a narrowly defined, closely delineated section of the Here And Now, they too must be subject to that ephemerality; because even with just the passage of time from completion of the first draft to publication the Here And Now has become the There And Then. Gibson’s a great stylist, his prose is exactly what it needs to be and his dialogue is pithy and funny. He’s too smart not to be aware of the meta-narrative these works participate in, but in all honesty I’m not too sure how to take it. Planned Obsolesce always makes you feel like someone, somewhere is getting cheated out of something.

In three books on fashion and culture set in London in the first decade of the 21st century, he also completely fails to mention Hoxton.


  1. I have always considered Gibson's work to be a criticism or commentary on contemporary life.

    That said, the notional time period in his books has indeed been moving closer to the actual present as his career goes on.

    The omission of Hoxton is perhaps forgiveable given the continuing importance of Soho in the London media business. In my experience, while a lot of the new media work is done around Hoxton and Old Street, the money and direction comes from the large, established companies in Soho.

    1. It certainly doesn't need forgiving, at least on my part. The few times I've been there, well, let's say it's not to my taste and leave it at that.

      It's not entirely unrelated. This book's only a couple of years old and, what with the hipster backlash now in full swing, it already feels a touch dated. Gibson's obviously made a very conscious decision to fix this book in a very exact place and time, and a waver between finding that brave, and finding it intensely annoying. Good job he can write, eh?

  2. I must confess, the last Gibson I read was Pattern Recognition. While it still had all his usual sharpness of observation, it was too close to the "now" to be a satisfying SF read.

    I prefer my fiction to take me away from daily life, so I look for historical novels or far future SF.

    1. Yeah, as I think you've mentioned before, his recent work has been more overt commentary than SF. If you're mainly looking for escapism then these aren't a good bet, as he seems to be almost deliberately eschewing that.