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Count Zero  
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
Author William F. Gibson
Country United States
Language English
Series the Sprawl trilogy
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Victor Gollancz Ltd
Publication date 1986
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 261 pages
ISBN ISBN 0-575-03696-6 (first edition)
Preceded by Neuromancer
Followed by Mona Lisa Overdrive

Count Zero is a science fiction novel written by William Gibson, originally published in 1986. It is the middle volume of the Sprawl trilogy, which includes Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive, and is a prime example of the cyberpunk sub-genre.

Count Zero was serialized by Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine in the 1986 January (100th issue), February and March issues. The black and white story art was produced by J. K. Potter. The January cover is devoted to the story, with art by Hisaki Yasuda.

Count Zero was nominated for the Locus and British Science Fiction Awards in 1986,[1] as well as the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1987.[2][3][4]


Plot introduction

Seven years after the events of Neuromancer, strange things begin to happen in the Matrix, leading to the proliferation of what appear to be voodoo gods (hinted to be the fractured remains of the joined AIs that were Neuromancer and Wintermute).

Two powerful multinational corporations are engaged in a battle for control (extending into space) over a powerful new technology (a biochip) using hackers and the Matrix as well as espionage and violence.

Explanation of the novel's title

The title of the book, other than being the pseudonym of the main character Bobby Newmark, was also claimed by Gibson to be a word-play on the alleged computer programming term count zero interrupt. According to a frontleaf of the book, in a "count zero interrupt", an interrupt of a process decrements a counter to zero. The exact quote is "On receiving an interrupt, decrement the counter to zero." (The term "count zero interrupt" or CZI could be found in the book: Programming The Z80 by Rodney Zaks, 1982.)

Plot summary

As with later Gibson works, there are multiple story-line threads which eventually intertwine:

Thread One: In the southwestern USA, Turner, a corporate mercenary soldier, has been hired out to help Mitchell, a brilliant researcher, make an illegal career move from Maas' corporate fortress built into a mesa in the Arizona desert to another corporation. The attempt is a disaster, and Turner ends up escaping with the scientist's young daughter, Angie Mitchell instead. Her father had apparently altered her nervous system to allow her to access the Cyberspace Matrix directly, without a "deck" (a computer), but she is not conscious of this. She also carries the plans, implanted in her brain by her father, of the secrets of construction of the extremely valuable "biosoft" that has made Maas so influential and powerful. This "biosoft" is what multibillionaire Josef Virek (see thread three) desires above all else, so that he can make an evolutionary jump to something resembling omniscience and immortality.

Thread Two: A young New Jersey-suburbs amateur computer hacker, Bobby Newmark, self-named "Count Zero," is given a piece of black market software by some criminal associates "to test". When he plugs himself into the matrix and runs the program, it almost kills him. The only thing that saves his life is a sudden image of a girl made of light who interferes and unhooks him from the software just before he flatlines. This event leads to his working with his associates' backers to investigate similar strange recent occurrences on the Net. It is eventually revealed that Bobby's mysterious savior is Angie (see Thread One); the two only meet physically at the very end of the book.

Thread Three: Marly Krushkova, a small gallery owner in Paris until she was tricked into trying to sell a hoax, and newly infamous as a result, is recruited by ultra-rich, reclusive (cf. Howard Hughes) industrialist and art patron Josef Virek to find the unknown creator of a series of futuristic Joseph Cornell style boxes. Unbeknownst to her, the reason behind Virek's interest in these boxes is related to indications of biosoft construction in the design of one, which he suspects may be contained in the others.

All of these plot lines come together at the end of the story and Virek, the hunter of his immortality and unlimited power, becomes the hunted. It is hinted that multiple AIs secretly inhabiting cyberspace are the fragmented, compartmentalized remains of two AIs, Neuromancer and Wintermute, having joined together (introduced in Neuromancer, and designed by the head of this Rockefeller-like family, the Tessier-Ashpools). These AI units now interface with humanity in the form of different Haitian voodoo gods, as they have found these images to be the best representations of themselves through which they can communicate with people. Hackers worldwide are becoming aware that there is something weird loose in the cyberspace matrix, but most are understandably reluctant to talk about (or deal with), "voodoo spooks" supposedly haunting cyberspace. The "voodoo gods" have constructed the elaborate series of events in the novel, having originally given Mitchell the information for developing the biosoft, instructing him to insert a biosoft modification in his daughter's brain, and then sent the Cornell boxes into the world to attract, and enable the disposal of, the malicious Virek.

The Cyberspace Matrix, a synergistic linked computer database that encompasses all information on Earth, has become home to sentient beings. But most of humanity remains unaware.


Cover of the April 1987 Ace paperback edition with cover art by Richard Berry.

Bobby Newmark

At the beginning of the novel, Bobby is a small time "cowboy" (hacker) who wants to be a big name in cyberspace. He is given what he naively trusts is an "ICE breaker" (hacking software), unaware that he is in fact being used to test some unknown software to see what it does. He is directed to use the software to infiltrate a black ICE database which nearly ends up killing him. But at the last moment Bobby is rescued, while in Cyberspace and dying, by an image of a girl, Angela Mitchell, who is somehow able to enter cyberspace without using a "deck" (computer). The acronym ICE is shorthand for "Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics". The most formidable of these data defense networks are powerful enough to trace back and kill any hacker making an attempt to defeat them. This is legally sanctioned or is, at least, not illegal.

Bobby realizes his target must now know where he lives, so he flees. Shortly after leaving his apartment, he is brutally mugged for his deck and left for dead, only to be rescued and given medical attention by the owners of the software Bobby tried out, a small group who are very interested in what happened to him in Cyberspace. Bobby and Angela (who are roughly the same age) meet at the end of the book. Bobby makes a minor appearance in the third Sprawl novel, Mona Lisa Overdrive.


Turner (the only name by which he is known in the novel) is a mercenary who is employed by various corporations to help vital employees of competing corporations "defect" to Turner's employers. The novel begins with an account of a job in New Delhi in which Turner was nearly killed by a mobile bomb. After three months of reconstructive surgery in Singapore, Turner takes a vacation in Mexico, where he meets and becomes sexually involved with a woman named Allison. While on the beach with Allison, Turner sees a familiar yacht close to shore and a powerboat from the yacht approaching the beach, bearing the logo of the Hosaka Corporation. Turner tells Allison to leave while he waits for the raft's passenger to come ashore. He already knows that the passenger is Conroy, another mercenary with whom Turner has worked in the past. Conroy recruits Turner for another "extraction" job; this time, Conroy and Turner are to help a man named Christopher Mitchell leave Maas Biolabs for Hosaka. Mitchell carries with him the expertise to design and manufacture "biochips", a technology superior to the nearly ubiquitous silicon microprocessors of the era. Maas Biolabs holds the patents and secrets to biochip technology and will use every means it can to prevent Mitchell's escape. Conroy also reveals that Allison is a "field psychologist" working for Hosaka to monitor Turner and help his recovery.

Turner is a disciplined professional, but is troubled by memories of past jobs that ended tragically as well as his relationship with his gifted brother Rudy (who is a reclusive alcoholic and drug addict). Turner comes to realize that the unsuccessful attempt to "bring over" Christopher Mitchell from Maas to Hosaka resulted from a betrayal and suspects that Conroy is behind it. He also recognizes that Angie Mitchell was sent out from the Maas facility by her father, and she is in grave danger, and resolves to protect her while finding out who is pursuing her and why.

Marly Krushkhova

Marly, prior to the beginning of the story, operated a small art gallery in Paris. She was disgraced (and became notorious) when she attempted to sell a forged box assemblage that was supposedly a lost piece by the American sculptor Joseph Cornell. She was unaware that the piece was a fake; the forgery had been commissioned by the gallery's co-owner (and Marly's then-lover) Alain, who embezzled money from the gallery to finance the commission and then convinced Marly that the piece was an authentic long lost Cornell. Unemployed and living with her friend Andrea, Marly receives a job offer from the immensely wealthy businessman Josef Virek. During her interview, conducted via a very advanced simstim link, Virek informs Marly that he has collected several remarkable box assemblages similar to those created by Cornell. Virek then hires Marly to find out who is producing the pieces, offering her unlimited financial support during the course of her search.

Marly is not, however, easily led, and quickly realizes there is more than meets the eye in her new job. Though she welcomes the opportunity to get out of her current situation, Marly does not fully trust the mysterious and secretive Virek. This mistrust only deepens when it becomes clear that she is being followed and monitored by Virek's agents, in particular Virek's right-hand man, Paco. Marly tries to stay a step ahead of Virek and Paco while discovering the identity of the boxes' creator.


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to William Gibson article)

From Wikiquote

William Ford Gibson (born 17 March 1948) is a science-fiction author.



  • The NET is a waste of time, and that's exactly what's right about it.
    • Name of an article he wrote for New York Times Magazine (14 July 1996)
    • See also: more quotes about the Internet
  • The past is past, the future unformed. There is only the moment, and that is where he prefers to be.

Neuromancer (1984)

  • The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
  • They damaged his nervous system with a wartime Russian mycotoxin. Strapped to a bed in a Memphis hotel, his talent burning out micron by micron, he hallucinated for thirty hours.The damage was minute, subtle, and utterly effective. For Case, who'd lived for the bodiless exultation of cyberspace, it was the Fall.
  • Night City was like a deranged experiment in social Darwinism, designed by a bored researcher who kept one thumb permanently on the fast-forward button. Stop hustling and you sank without a trace, but move a little too swiftly and you'd break the fragile surface tension of the black market; either way, you were gone, with nothing left of you but some vague memory in the mind of a fixture like Ratz, though heart or lungs or kidneys might survive in the service of some stranger with New Yen for the clinic tanks.
  • They'd left the place littered with the abstract white forms of the foam packing units, with crumpled plastic film and hundreds of tiny foam beads. The Ono-Sendai; next year's most expensive Hosaka computer; a Sony monitor; a dozen disks of corporate-grade ice; a Braun coffee maker.
  • "Hey," he'd said, "it's me. Case." The old eyes regarding him out of their dark webs of wrinkled flesh. "Ah," Ratz had said, at last, "the artiste." The bartender shrugged. "I came back." The man shook his massive, stubbled head. "Night City is not a place one returns to, artiste," he said, swabbing the bar in front of Case with a filthy cloth, the pink manipulator whining.
  • The cutting of Sense/Net's ice took a total of nine days. "I said a week," Armitage said, unable to conceal his satisfaction when Case showed him his plan for the run. "You took your own good time." "Balls," Case said, smiling at the screen. "That's good work, Armitage." "Yes," Armitage admitted, "but don't let it go to your head. Compared to what you'll eventually be up against, this is an arcade toy."
  • A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he'd taken and the corners he'd cut in Night City, and he'd still see the matrix in his sleep, bright lattices of logic unfolding across that colorless void.... The Sprawl was a long strange way home over the Pacific now, and he was no console man, no cyberspace cowboy. Just another hustler, trying to make it through. But the dreams came on in the Japanese night like livewire voodoo, and he'd cry for it, cry in his sleep, and wake alone in the dark, curled in his capsule in some coffin hotel, his hands clawed into the bedslab, temperfoam bunched between his fingers, trying to reach the console that wasn't there.
  • Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding...
  • Don' 'stand you, mon, but we mus' move by Jah Love, each one
  • "Hate," Case said. "Who do I hate? You tell me." "Who do you love?" the Finn's voice asked.
  • The drug hit him like an express train, a white-hot column of light mounting his spine from the region of his prostate, illuminating the sutures of his skull with x-rays of short-circuited sexual energy. His teeth sang in their individual sockets like tuning forks, each one pitch-perfect and clear as ethanol. His bones, beneath the hazy envelope of flesh, were chromed and polished, the joints lubricated with a film of silicone. Sandstorms raged across the scoured floor of his skull, generating waves of high thin static that broke behind his eyes, spheres of purest crystal, expanding...The anger was expanding, relentless, exponential, riding out behind the betaphenethylamine rush like a carrier wave, a seismic fluid, rich and corrosive.
  • He came in steep, fueled by self-loathing. When the Kuang program met the first of the defenders, scattering the leaves of light, he felt the shark thing lose a degree of substantiality, the fabric of information loosening. And then - old alchemy of the brain and its vast pharmacy - his hate flowed into his hands. In the instant before he drove Kuang's sting through the base of the first tower, he attained a level of proficiency exceeding anything he'd known or imagined. Beyond ego, beyond personality, beyond awareness, he moved, Kuang moving with him, evading his attackers with an ancient dance, Hideo's dance, grace of the mind-body interface granted him, in that second, by the clarity and singleness of his wish to die.
  • CASE: 'I wanna have a look at an AI in Berne. Can you think of any reason not to?' DIXIE FLATLINE: `Not unless you got a morbid fear of death, no.'

Count Zero (1986)

  • Because he [=Turner] had a good agent, he had a good contract. Because he had a good contract, he was in Singapore an hour after the explosion. Most of him, anyway.
    • Chapter 1
  • In Heathrow a vast chunk of memory detached itself from a blank bowl of airport sky and fell on him. He vomited into a blue plastic container without breaking stride. When he arrived at the counter at the end of corridor, he changed his ticket.
    • Chapter 1, Turner begins to recall his past.
  • And, for an instant, she stared directly into those soft blue eyes and knew, with an instinctive mammalian certainty, that the exceedingly rich were no longer even remotely human.
    • Chapter 2, Marly's sensory link conversation interview with Herr Virek.
  • The stick-on holograms had actually had some effect on Bobby, because religion was now something he felt he’d considered and put aside. Basically, the way he figured it, there were just some people around who needed that shit, and he guessed there always had been, but he wasn’t one of them, so he didn’t.
    • Chapter 6
  • The Gothick girl regarded Bobby with mild interest but no flash of human recognition whatever, as though she were seeing an ad for a product she’d heard of but had no intention of buying.
    • Chapter 6
  • Stim was a medium she (=Marly) ordinarily avoided, something in her personality conflicting with the required degree of passivity.
    • Chapter 23
  • “Honey,” Jammer said, “you'll learn. Some things you teach yourself to remember to forget.”
    • Chapter 28, spoken to Jackie

No Maps for These Territories (1996)

  • That truth-is-stranger-than-fiction factor keeps getting jacked up on us on a fairly regular, maybe even exponential, basis. I think that's something peculiar to our time. I don't think our grandparents had to live with that.
  • I'd buy him a drink, but I don't know if I'd loan him any money.
    • When asked what he would say about the man who wrote Neuromancer
  • I think of Neuromancer as being, in a good sense, an adolescent book. It's a young man's book. It was written very young-man's-book. It was written by a man who was not very young, when he wrote it, but who was sufficiently immature.
  • It's a world where there aren't families. It's the world of a young person going out into the wilderness, cities, and sort of in a way creating a family. You know, it's kind of like... it's not that it's a "goth book," but it's kind of rather the same stuff that makes kids be goths.
    • About Neuromancer
  • It had much more to do with my wanting to be with hippy girls and have lots of hashish than it did with my sympathy for the plight of the North Vietnamese people under US imperialism. Much more, much more to do with hippy girls and hashish.
    • On dodging the draft and moving to Toronto
  • Consequently, when I got to Toronto, much to my chagrin, I really, really couldn't handle hanging out with the American draft dodgers. There was too much clinical depression. Too much suicide. Too much hardcore substance abuse. They were a traumatized lot, those boys. And I just felt frivolous.
  • The straight world didn't end. The straight world and the other world had bled into one another and produced the world that we live in today.
  • Drugs were absolutely central to that experience, but they weren't essential. I only know that in retrospect. At the time I'm sure I would have said that they were.
  • All any drug amounts to is tweaking the incoming data. You have to be incredibly self-centered or pathetic to be satisfied with simply tweaking the incoming data.
  • When did you ever go to a drug dealer, and the drug dealer said, "you know, you should come back tomorrow, this is not very pure." It doesn't happen.
  • Acceptance. Acceptance of the impermanence of being. And acceptance of the imperfect nature of being, or possibly the perfect nature of being, depending on how one looks at it. Acceptance that this is not a rehearsal. That this is it.
    • When asked what will save humanity.
  • I think of religions as franchise operations. Like chicken franchise operations. But that doesn't mean there's no chicken, right?
    • Referring to his belief that it's possible for religions to help people.
  • Seated each afternoon in the darkened screening room, Halliday came to recognise the targetted numerals of the Academy leader as sigils preceding the dream state of a film.
    • A sentence that he worked on for years earlier in his career, which eventually went no where. Troubled by inexperience in "actually getting the characters to move," he spent so much time on it that he can still remember every word more than 20 years later.
  • I became so frustrated with my inability to physically move the characters through the imaginary narrative space, that I actually developed an early form of imaginary VR technology that sort of covered my ass... all they had to do was switch tapes and be in a different place, and I was spared the embarrassment of demonstrating that I didn't know how to get them up and down the stairs.
  • All I knew about the word "cyberspace" when I coined it, was that it seemed like an effective buzzword. It seemed evocative and essentially meaningless. It was suggestive of something, but had no real semantic meaning, even for me, as I saw it emerge on the page.
  • It will bring about the extinction of the nation-state as we know it... I think it will be as big a deal as the creation of cities.
    • Referring to the Internet
  • I didn't imagine that art girls in the Midwest would be flashing their tits in cyberspace...but I'm glad that they're doing it.
    • Asked whether the Internet is how he imagined it would be

Other sources

  • On the most basic level, computers in my books are simply a metaphor for human memory: I'm interested in the hows and whys of memory, the ways it defines who and what we are, in how easily memory is subject to revision. When I was writing Neuromancer, it was wonderful to be able to tie a lot of these interests into the computer metaphor. It wasn't until I could finally afford a computer of my own that I found out there's a drive mechanism inside- this little thing that spins around. I'd been expecting an exotic crystalline thing, a cyberspace deck or something, and what I got was a little piece of a Victorian engine that made noises like a scratchy old record player. That noise took away some of the mystique for me; it made computers less sexy. My ignorance had allowed me to romanticize them.
    • Interview with Larry McCaffery in Storming the Reality Studio: A Casebook of Cyberpunk and Postmodern Science Fiction, Duke University Press, December 1991
  • The future is not google-able.
    • talk at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, San Francisco, CA, February 5, 2004
  • There is always a point at which the terrorist ceases to manipulate the media gestalt. A point at which the violence may well escalate, but beyond which the terrorist has become symptomatic of the media gestalt itself. Terrorism as we ordinarily understand it is innately media-related.
    • excerpt from his blog, October 31, 2004
  • The most common human act that writing a novel resembles is lying. The working novelist lies daily, very complexly, and at great length. If not for our excessive vanity and our over-active imaginations, novelists might be unusually difficult to deceive.


  • The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed.
    • A variant of this: "As I've said many times, the future is already here. It's just not very evenly distributed." was said during an NPR interview (30 November 1999 Timecode 11:55)
    • See also: more quotes about the Future
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