Count Zero


An almost certainly incomplete glossary of fictional concepts in William Gibson’s Count Zero that are never explained and that you are supposed to understand by context, which is inscrutable since all these future-terms are neologisms and none could even remotely have been understandable to an audience in 1986, except to deep Gibson nerds who might have scrutinized every novel in the Sprawl Trilogy, which is understandable:

Biochip: An integrated circuit chip, superior to the silicon microprocessors that are common in Count Zero‘s era, that provides the basis for creating a virtual entity. Designed by the ubiquitous Maas-Neotek corporation.

Biosoft: A biography that includes actual life experience from the subject, to be experienced via internal mental experience (as in simstim, see below).

Cowboy: A hacker. Also known as a “Console Cowboy.”

Cyberspace Matrix: A “consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators,” essentially a more baroque version of our internet, with virtual reality and complex data are presented visually as multi-colored, three-dimensional forms, “lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and costellations of data…like city lights, receding.”

Cyberspace Deck: A computer, that which you use to “access” said Matrix (i.e. project your disembodied consciousness into it).

Derm, Dermadisk: Medicine. An adhesive patch that transmits a drug transdermally when applied to the skin. Also used to take hallucinogenic drugs recreationally.

ICE, Black ICE: Intrusion Countermeasures Electronics, a kind of physical, three-dimensional firewall that can cripple or kill any hacker attempting to access off-limits data in the Matrix.

Icebreaker: Hacker software designed to crack corporate ICE.

Ono-Sendai: A cyberspace deck or computer console designed by the Japanese corporation Hosaka. Top-shelf.

Orbital Terminus: A space airport, specifically for low-orbit flights.

Simstim, Simstim Link: Simulated Stimuli, a mostly recreational technology that enables its user to experience a full range of sensory experience coming from another person. Simstim soap operas, films, and television shows have replaced all other forms of visual entertainment. The technology can also be used as a one-way communication link between two people, and Cyberspace Decks are simplified simstim units.

Slamhound: A mobile bomb.

Sprawl: A mega-city that is the indeterminate result of all major cities merging together.

I’m totally selling Count Zero short by making this entry entirely about its language, but for the sake of all its future readers, I can think of nothing more helpful in the process of shlepping through Gibson’s Sprawl-world than a glossary. One thing I appreciate about Gibson’s canon is his devout unwillingness to make things easy on his readers — the end result being a kind of fetid sensory overload that fully evokes the overbearing complexity of a world that has just kept on growing, becoming denser and thornier in the generations since the present day. After all, we pound towards the future every day with our increasingly Gordian technology and no solutions for actually integrating it in everyday life: the result is the oppressive web of data and experience that Gibson understands so well.

For what it’s worth, however, I could easily write unreadable academic theses on 50% of the plotlines in Count Zero, which is largely about sentient AIs populating the cybersphere with the avatars of Voodoo gods.

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2 Responses to Count Zero

  1. Mikey says:

    Either I got smarter or he got easier as I moved forward through his books. I think Virtual Light was the first book of his I felt I “got” and then when I re-read Neuromancer it made more sense.

  2. Also the current Bigend Trilogy (Pattern Recognition, Spook Country, Zero History (upcoming)) is like a remake of the Sprawl Trilogy but set in contemporary America. Same themes, but totally different fabric of reality: female protagonists, softening of the Burroughs-esque surface texture of the writing, more overt observational humor. I went back and re-read the Sprawl Trilogy after Spook Country came out and, like Mike, I found it far more legible than I’d remembered it.

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