Sunday, June 13, 2010

Converging Storylines – Count Zero

It’s been a few years since I tackled William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”. It was an interesting read for a few reasons. It is often considered the first real cyber-punk novel. It also ended up inspiring a role-playing game I enjoyed in my youth “Shadowrun” as well as provided some of the basic inspiration for the excellent anime franchise “Ghost in the Shell”.

So when I sat down to read “Count Zero” I had an idea of what to expect. Gibson has a very dense style of prose. He gets a little too flowery in his descriptions for my taste, but he does know how to craft an intriguing story.

“Count Zero” takes a tricky path. It presents us with three protagonists, each with their own storyline. Gibson then jumps from storyline to storyline with each new chapter. At first all three stories seem unrelated, but you begin to see threads that do unite them. Of course the ending has all the stories clash in one way or the other. In addition, the events of “Neuromancer” are used as set up for “Count Zero”. So if you plan on reading this book, I suggest you start with “Neuromancer” first. I was a little fuzzy on the older book and had to look some stuff up on fan sites to refresh my memory.

The tactic of using three different stories isn’t new, but it is a challenge. You need to be able to craft three stories that are equally interesting and then tie them together in a way that keeps the reader turning pages. This requires some serious skill in pacing and story development. For the most part Gibson succeeds. His three protagonists couldn’t be more different. You’ve got an experienced mercenary, a punk kid hacker and a disgraced woman searching for a mysterious artist.

The action fan in me enjoyed the mercenary’s story the most. But the hacker kid had a lot of action in his story as well (and a bit of humor). The woman searching for the artist started out a little slow, but her journey is the most mysterious. When she turned up I was looking forward to what new clue she would discover. I have to give Gibson credit for really weaving the story well and telling it in a fairly compact form. My copy of the book is 244 pages long.

As for the sci-fi elements, the view of the world here is taken from the 80’s. The Internet was in a very basic form at this point. The Matrix (this worlds version of the internet combined with virtual reality) seems a bit silly sounding to us now. Everyone is jacking in using wires and there are still public phones. Wireless technology isn’t around, but people have full holographic videophones. It’s an interesting view, one that was probably edgy in the mid 80’s when this was written.

But as with most good sci-fi, it is Gibson’s ideas that still carry over with time. Artificial Intelligence takes a key role in this book. The integration of computers with humans is also a major point. Both of these elements would be explored even deeper in “Ghost in the Shell”, but its very interesting to see how Gibson approaches them here.

Still it’s worth checking out for any sci-fi writers who haven’t read Gibson yet. His three story line structure is executed with skill and the story moves quickly. I’m looking forward to picking up more of his work.

What do you think of Gibson’s work? Have you read “Count Zero”? Have you tried writing an intertwined three story novel? Have you read another book using the same technique?

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