Saturday, January 22, 2011

On Zero History and The Sherlockian

Book Eight: Zero History by William Gibson

Damned if I know what William Gibson is up to in Zero History

It's his third novel to feature Hubertus Bigend, a Belgian who runs the viral marketing and cool-hunting agency, Blue Ant. Bigend made his first appearance in Pattern Recognition in 2003, his second in Spook Country in 2007.

Spook Country also introduced us to Hollis Henry, former lead singer of the fictional '90s band the Curfew. Hollis returns in Zero History, relcutantly back in the employee of Bigend. After the economy crashed Hollis's vow never to work for Bigend again must give way to the prospect of a lucrative payday.

Hollis was exploring "locative art" for Bigend in Spook Country. Now, she's trying to identify the creator of a mystertious "secret brand" of clothing called Gabriel Hounds. 

Also returning from Spook Country is Milgrim. Then a high-end junkie, now in recovery, Milgrim is off on a mission for Bigend that involves military uniforms. It seems there are lots of young men who don't want to be in the military, but who want people to think they are -- and Bigend senses an opportunity to control an important market.

Unfortunately, Miligrim has unintentionally drawn the interest and anger of a former special ops officer who is attempting to corner the market on combat wear as a way of concealing his illicit arms deals.

All this brings a sprawling cast of characters together in a climatic ambush that's over almost before it begins.

In the course of Zero History there's a nifty little surprise associated with Gabriel Hounds and a character from Pattern Recognition. The other delight of Zero History, which has been true of Gibson's work from the beginning, are all his shady, shadowy minor characters, which introduce a decidely Dickensian spirit to his writing.

Gibson once wrote about a not-too-distant future, now he's writing about a present that seems to exist in a parallel universe only a step or two removed from our own. It's all fun and cool, even if I don't understand what it's all about.

Book Nine: The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

I should like The Sherlockian more than I did. It's based on real-life events. A diary and papers belonging to Holmes' creator Arthur Conan Doyle did go missing after Doyle's death. And a foremost Holmes scholar did turn up dead, under mysterious circumstances, after announcing he had recovered Doyle's lost papers.

Author Graham Moore takes us down parallel, but related paths to explain what might have happened to the missing papers and the dead scholar. 

One path involves Harold White, a newly minted member of The Baker Street Irregulars, the world's premiere Holmes society, who is off to investigate the scholar's murder and re-locate the missing diary. The second path involves Doyle and Dracula author Bram Stoker, friends in real life, and recounts what the diary contains (all fictional, of course) and how it came to be missing.

The novel doesn't quite deliver. The tale of Doyle and Stoker is more intriguing than the implausible adventures of Mr. White, who never emerges fully formed as a character. 

Ultimately, White and another character do something that simply does not feel right. It's not merely unlikely, it's improbable. Moore presents it as a satisfying and appropriate conclusion to the novel, but for this reader it was quite the opposite. 

The best thing that can be said about The Sherlockian is that the cover design for its dust jacket is stunning.

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