A followup, though not a direct sequel, to his career-launching Neuromancer, Gibson's sophomore novel handily avoids the sophomore slump. Count Zero shows the once and future cyberpunk warming to his technocentric themes and becoming more comfortable in the frenetic language and balance of cynicism and satire that would become some of his trademarks.
Set several years after Neuromancer, Count Zero energetically meshes three story threads. Turner is a freelance mercenary who specializes in helping technologists defect from the monolithic corporations to whom they are indentured (people defect from company to company the way they did from country to country in the Cold War). On a mission to help extract a top R&D man from the deserts of Arizona, everything suddenly goes horribly wrong and Turner barely escapes with his life, with the frightened daughter of the researcher in tow. Meanwhile, far away in the gang-ridden east coast slum of Barrytown, a punk kid named Bobby Newmark, who has big dreams of escaping his dead-end life by becoming a hotshot cyberspace cowboy with the handle "Count Zero Interrupt," is loaned a piece of software to test by his local dealer. The minute Bobby jacks in, everything suddenly goes horribly wrong, and he barely escapes with his life. The software turns out to be a powerful icebreaker that nearly fries Bobby's brain with feedback, but just in the nick, the mysterious apparition of a young girl appears to him out of the matrix and rescues him.
On the other side of the world, Marly Krushkhova, a disgraced former art dealer, is hired by an enigmatic bilionaire collector named Virek to trace the creator of a series of art pieces, boxes containing assortments of objects. (Gibson, already developing his own archetypes, would later resurrect and expand upon this character in Pattern Recognition.) But who is Virek exactly, and how has this quest managed to attract the attention of her ex-lover, the one who ruined her career in the first place by selling a forgery out of her gallery? And why are people turning up dead in what is supposed to be a simple search for an artist?
What ensues is a taut and energized action story that takes us from the congested urban sprawl of the Sprawl to the decrepit orbital stations of the zaibatsus, the financial noble houses of the information-age future. Gibson keeps the book's pace brisk yet controlled, never letting it exhaust his readers or overwhelm the story's narrative cohesion. And the expertise with which Gibson ties his disparate storylines together is something to behold. It's a kick that this book, despite featuring cyberpunk tropes that have since been co-opted by the mainstream and become clichéd (even hearing the word "matrix" in this day and age makes you think of only one thing), still packs as much solid entertainment as it does. If you haven't read it in 15 years, as I hadn't before writing this, you'll be delighted at how well it holds up. And first-time readers will be wowed by Gibson's talent and authority when he was still a fresh face on the SF circuit.