Count Zero (Swarm Trilogy, Book 2), by William Gibson

Book two of the Swarm Trilogy was published two years after Neuromancer, though the plot takes place nearly a decade after that book. Two AIs, Neuromancer and Wintermute, have blended together and now interact with humans on the matrix (which contains all the world’s data) as Haitian voodoo gods.

Meanwhile, in the meatworld, a corporate mercenary is hired to assist Christopher Mitchell to move from one of the two large megacorporations in the world to the other one. This is illegal and ends up in a disaster, but Turner escapes with Mitchell’s daughter Angie who has had the plans of a revolutionary device invented by her father implanted in her brain. Extremely rich Josef Virek wants these plans, seeing them as opening the door to both immortality and omniscience.

The story is intricate and multi-layered, as with all Gibson books, filled with detail, odd innovations, and tons of cultural references. As a prose stylist Gibson ranks among the best in post-Bradbury sci-fi as he describes hooking up to the matrix (“jacking in”) through implants and traveling through mountains of data as an ecstatic experience. Gradually hackers around the world realize, or at least get hints, that the matrix has become the home of a sentient being, setting up the trilogy finale in Mona Lisa Overdrive.

The trilogy is worth revisiting every few years, in part to absorb the writing and in part for a measurement against what is happening in the Internet and world compared with Gibson’s visions from three decades earlier.