With Pattern Recognition
, William Gibson, the man who introduced cyberpunk to the world, gives us his first novel set in the present. But as Gibson's imagination makes clear, our corporation-dominated, technologically advanced reality doesn't need much tweaking to take on the aura of science fiction.
If there's a fantastical element to this, the author's eighth book, it's in protagonist Cayce Pollard's special talent. Here, Gibson takes some of No Logo author Naomi Klein's ideas about branding to a logical extreme: Pollard has an instinctual, often violently intense reaction to logos, a condition that makes her valuable to advertising agencies looking for the most effective way to brand a product. This talent, however, makes a trip to a department store potentially lethal, as when she visits a London shopping emporium and is inundated by "a mountainside of Tommy [Hilfiger] coming down in her head." "Some people ingest a single peanut and their head swells like a basketball," writes Gibson. "When it happens to Cayce, it's her psyche.... When it starts, it's pure reaction, like biting down hard on a piece of foil." Pollard is also a "coolhunter" of the first order, which means she can sniff out a trend before it's even begun to be commodified. She's so good, in fact, that "she's met the very Mexican who first wore his baseball cap backwards."
With such sensitivity to our over-branded world, it's completely natural that our heroine would become fascinated by Internet footage of a film in which characters, setting, and time are completely generic--unbranded, unfixed, free. But Pollard isn't the only one obsessed by "the footage," as it's referred to, and this is where Gibson's masterful storytelling comes to the fore. Who will be the first to solve the mystery of the film's origin? Who else is trying, and for what potentially nefarious purpose? As usual the author proves adept at weaving a suspenseful narrative out of humdrum elements, such as e-mail exchanges. If there's a caveat, it's that, as with literary forefather Philip K. Dick, the Vancouver-based author's prose veers wildly from the poetic to the clunky. And his supporting characters often amount to nothing more than a combination of an unusual name and shadowy motive. But the continual barrage of ideas, and the way Gibson arranges them for maximum impact, make for a gripping and insightful glimpse into our hyperdriven consumer culture. --Shawn Conner
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From Publishers Weekly
Gibson, known as the "patron saint of cyberpunk lit," has made his reputation with futuristic tales. Though his new novel is set in the present, baroque descriptions of everyday articles and menacing anthropomorphic treatment of the Internet and sister technology give it a sci-fi feel. Cayce Pollard, a market researcher with razor-sharp intuition, makes big bucks by evaluating potential products and advertising campaigns. In London, she stays in the trendy digs of documentary filmmaker friend Damien (away on assignment), whom she e-mails frequently. When Cayce brusquely rejects the new logo of advertising mogul Hubertus Bigend, she earns his respect and a big check but makes an enemy of his graphic designer, vindictive Dorotea Benedetti. Hubertus later hires Cayce to ferret out the origin of a series of sensual film clips appearing guerrilla style on computers all over the world and attracting a growing cult following. Cayce treats this as a standard job until somebody breaks into Damien's flat and hacks into her computer. Suddenly every casual encounter carries undertones of danger. Her investigative trail takes her to Tokyo and Russia and through a rogue's gallery of iconoclastic Web-heads. Casting a further shadow is the memory of her father, Win, a security expert (probably CIA) missing and presumed dead in the World Trade Center disaster of exactly a year earlier. For complicated reasons even she doesn't understand, she connects her current dilemma with her father's tragedy and follows the trail with the fervor of a personal vendetta. Gibson's brisk, kinetic style and incisive observations should keep the reader entertained even when Cayce's quest begins to lose urgency. Gibson's best book since Mona Lisa Overdrive should satisfy his hardcore fans while winning plenty of new ones.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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