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Literature: Count Zero
"On receiving an interrupt, decrement the counter to zero."

Count Zero is about a freelance mercenary named Turner. After a botched job destroys much of his body, he is given a new one by his employers and enjoys some well-deserved R&R with a beautiful woman on the Mexican coast. Against his wishes, his vacation is cut short when his handler Conroy sends him on a job to extract a talented scientist from Maas Biolabs.

Wait, no. It's about the art dealer Marly Kruschkova, recovering after being victimised by a con artist. To her astonishment, she is contacted by the insanely wealthy Josef Virek, a man who's a megacorp unto himself. Virek hires her to find the creator of a set of the Virek Collection, a set of wooden boxes containing miscellaneous items, with a near-unlimited budget and no deadline.

Wait, no. It's about the wannabe console cowboy Bobby Newmark. After narrowly avoiding death twice, he finds himself in over his head in a world of computer hackers, shady dealings and voodoo gods.

It's a complicated book, to say the least.

Count Zero is the 1986 sequel to William Gibson's Neuromancer, and the second book in the Sprawl Trilogy. While not as well known as Neuromancer, it's still an excellent read.
This book provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Asshole Victim: Alain, who is murdered by Herr Virek's - or possibly Maas biolab's - henchmen after he gives up the info on the boxes to Marly.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: The Kasuals, a vicious Barrytown street gang, take this trope Up to Eleven. They habitually dress in elaborate formal garb that includes silk brocade and lace cravats. Even when they're wasting punks on the streets.
  • Big Bad: Virek, who turns out to be the common thread in all three stories.
  • Call Back: In the final scene of the novel, Turner takes his now-seven year old son to visit the squirrel wood where he crashed his plane during the Mitchell extraction.
  • The Chessmaster: As it turns out, everything was set up by Virek.
  • Creepy Child: Angie Mitchell has shades of this, particularly when the AI constructs begin speaking through her la Demonic Possession.
  • Continuity Nod: There's quite a few references to the fate of the Tessier-Ashpools following the events of Neuromancer, and The Finn gives a quick recap of the Straylight run for Bobby and Lucas, though he doesn't mention Case, Molly, or Armitage by name.
    • Angie also mentions dreaming of a woman with mirrors for eyes and a man that helped the Matrix "become whole". This of course refers to Molly's mirrorshades and Case turning the Matrix into a giant superintelligence by merging Neuromancer and Wintermute.
  • The Dragon: Paco, to Herr Virek.
  • Demonic Possession: The AIs come across as this when they speak through Angie via the implants in her brain.
  • Demoted to Extra: The Tessier-Ashpool family (the main antagonists from Neuromancer) have faded into obscurity by the events of Count Zero.
  • Double Meaning Title: The title refers to a "count zero interrupt", a type of computer crash that can occur when the AI gets into a computer system. Count Zero is also Bobby's street handle ("Count", as in the aristocratic title).
  • Double Agent: A few. Conroy has two plants that don't know about each other on Turner's extraction team, and Conroy himself turns out to be working for Virek
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Dutchman.
  • Fiction500: Oh yeah, Virek's definitely up there. When any action taken with your assets can potentially destabilize the economies of a couple nations, you know you're rich.
  • The Fundamentalist: Wigan Ludgate.
  • Grand Finale: The shootout at Jammer's club, where all three subplots finally converge.
  • Grim Reaper: The AI sometimes takes the form of Baron Samedi, the voodoo god of death. At the end, it assumes this form when it kills Virek.
  • Hand Cannon: Turner's Smith & Wesson revolver.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Averted. Beauvoir and co. are normal, if rather superstitious people who happen to follow the voodoo religion.
  • Hover Car: Turner and Angie use one to get to the Sprawl.
  • Kiss Me, I'm Virtual: Bobby has a "holoporn" projector that puts several girls on the walls of his bedroom, but he doesn't care about the girls anymore - he just likes how it makes the room seem bigger.
  • Magic from Technology: Played with. The AI constructs try to emulate the Loa (gods) of the voodoo religion, and Beauvoir and his allies seem to understand them as both.
  • Man in the Machine: Herr Virek hopes to become one (after all, it's a big step up from being stuck in a Person Jar).
  • Mr. Exposition: The Finn, a minor character from Neuromancer, briefly assumes this role.
  • Neural Implanting: Turner has a slot in his head for "microsofts", such as one for speaking Spanish.
  • Only One Name: Turner. Even his brother only calls him Turner.
  • Parental Neglect: Sadly, Bobby endures a lot of this from his mother. Having soap operas broadcast into her mind 24/7 via brain implants doesn't exactly help.
  • People Jars: Herr Virek spends the whole novel in one, only communicating with others through his digital avatar.
  • Person as Verb: As the Finn later explains 'Pulling a Wilson' is named after Bodine Wilson, a guy he used to know
  • Roaring Rampageof Revenge: Jaylene Slide takes the loss of her boyfriend very personally. She takes out the murderer (and two whole floors of a building) seconds after being told who it is. The AI calling itself "Baron Semedi" also gets upset at the death of Jackie and goes after Virek on his home turf as a result.
  • Recurring Character: The Finn is the only character to appear in both Count Zero and Neuromancer, though he only has a minor role in each.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Bobby's condo has carpet-colored carpet and curtain-colored curtains.
  • Smug Snake: Alain, Marly's ex-lover.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The POV rotates between Turner, Bobby, and Marly. And the next-to-last chapter is told from the POV of Tally Isham, a famous simstim actress who is briefly mentioned early in the book.
  • Tagalong Kid: Bobby spends most of the novel following around the people who actually know what's going on. Or at least they know more than he does.
  • Technology Marches On: Marley has to order a special accessory program to make her phone filter calls from numbers not in her permanent directory; today, that's a standard freeware app for most smartphones.
  • Thanatos Gambit: The biochip designer Mitchell organised the extraction with the intention of saving his daughter instead of himself.
  • The Unreveal: The boxes are being made by a robot. Marly doesn't find out who made the robot.
    • Similarly, Turner finds out that Mitchell was augmented by AI technology that enhanced his intelligence. But he doesn't find out how this happened. Or why...
  • Walking the Earth: Wigan Ludgate did this for a while after he became convinced that God was dwelling in cyberspace, and eventually travelled into space. Marly runs into him at the abandoned Freeside space station.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: Marly has become one of the most successful art dealers in Paris. Angie is a simstim actress working as a understudy to the famous Tally Isham, and she is in a relationship with Bobby, who now works as her bodyguard. Meanwhile, Turner is happily married to Sally (his brother Rudy's ex-wife), and he has a son with her.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: The Gothicks and the Kasuals.
NeuromancerHugo AwardEmergence
CosmosLiterature of the 1980sCourtship Rite
NeuromancerScience Fiction LiteratureMona Lisa Overdrive
SchismatrixNebula AwardThe Handmaid's Tale

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