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Literature / Count Zero

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"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 considered by many Gibson fans to be even better.

This book provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Airborne Artillery: Immediately after Turner botches Dr. Mitchell's extraction, an unidentified attacker craters his base camp. While Turner at first suspects an orbital laser strike or a tactical nuke, he eventually concludes that the attack must have come from a massive railgun hidden on one of the corporate blimps he had spotted on radar prior to the extraction run but dismissed as weather balloons because they stayed hundreds of kilometers away from the base camp.
  • 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.
  • Brain Uploading: Virek's ultimate goal. He seeks out the boxmaker on the assumption that will serve as a missing link between AI and a transferred human intelligence.
    • Justified by his status in the world. Given his vast wealth and lack of an heir, his death would cause chaos in the world economy. An immortal uploaded intelligence, on the other hand...
  • Brick Joke: The very first chapter mentions that Turner's reconstruction involved a set of genitals purchased from the open market. In the epilogue, Turner's son asks why he doesn't look like his dad.
  • 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.
    • The AI's are this as well, as pretty much every major plot point was initiated by one of them.
  • Creepy Child: Angie Mitchell has shades of this, particularly when the AI constructs begin speaking through her à 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.
    • Turner wields a Smith & Wesson .408 tactical with a xenon projector, the same model the Finn tried to sell to Automatic Jack in "Burning Chrome."
    • Jammer actually talks about Quine and Automatic Jack's run on Blue Lights, and states that Jack built his custom deck.
  • Death Seeker: Herr Virek, confined to a life support vat for decades, laments in his first appearance that his company would never let him die, even if a ROM construct was made. It's why he's looking for whatever's left of Neuromancer.
  • The Dragon: Paco, to Herr Virek.
  • Demonic Possession: The A.I.s 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.
  • Dreamville: After Turner gets blown up in the beginning, he spends a few months in a simulation of a suburban New England childhood while undergoing surgery.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: While the novel's two epilogue chapters provide endings for all of the main characters (Marly appears to have done well for herself, even though this is only mentioned in passing, Bobby and Angie find happines in each other's arms, but theirs really turns out to be a fake ending, since their stories are continued in Mona Lisa Overdrive), only Turner's ending is a genuinely happy one, with him finding love in his late brother's girlfriend and founding a family. He's also the character who arguably had to suffer the most throughout the novel, with pretty much everything he attempted having gone awry in one way or another.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Dutchman.
  • Fiction 500: 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.
  • Goth: The Gothicks, unsurprisingly, have a casual goth aesthetic involving black trenchcoats and makeup.
  • 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, loaded with high-explosive bullets.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Averted. Beauvoir and his associates are normal, quietly religious (if rather superstitious) people whose religion just happens to be Voudon.
  • 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 Rampage of Revenge: Jaylene Slide takes the loss of her boyfriend (Lucas) very personally. Within seconds of learning the murderer's name (Conroy), she has a friend of hers kill him by blowing up two whole floors of the building where he's staying. The AI calling itself "Baron Samedi" 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. He'd been embezzling from her gallery, and he commissioned the forged Cornell box in the hope of selling it and replacing the stolen money.
  • 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: Marly 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...
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Chopped out" is slang for being assaulted, usually by members of a rival gang.
  • 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.
  • We Can Rebuild Him: In the first chapter Turner is blown apart by an explosive assassination drone, he then spends several months in a simulation of an idealized New England childhood while a corporate surgeon puts him back together, though mostly with donor or cloned organs rather than cybernetics which explains why his son in the end doesn't look like him.
  • "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.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The turf war between the Gothicks and the Kasuals involves a group of misfits of varying social classes pitted against the very preppy Kasuals - quite a bit like the conflict between the Greasers and Socs in S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz: The Gothicks and the Kasuals.