The accolades and acclaim are endless for William Gibson's coast-to-coast bestseller. Set in the post-9/11 present, Pattern Recognition is the story of one woman's never-ending search for the now.
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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Heroine Cayce Pollard, like the heroine of Pynchon's book, finds a symbol that defies decoding and, seeking its answer, slowly gains a not inconsiderable amount of self-knowledge through treks across land and people. Rather than the Trystero in Pynchon's book, which remained a mystery at story's end, here Cayce seeks the Footage and its Creator; what she uncovers dazzled and delighted me. (And watch for the veiled reference to Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" through Win; it changes so much about this book!)
The prose of Gibson in this book is masterful; he is acute and lyrical while noting how material comforts have come to desensitize us and lead to a sense of soul-decay. Truly, this is some of Gibson's most impassioned prose since "Neuromancer." His ear renders some of the most awe-inspiring descriptions and musings this side of Don DeLillo ("White Noise" and "Mao II"). However, whereas DeLillo misstepped slightly with his latest book, "Cosmopolis," Gibson's meditation is eerily, and deadly, on. I can only find one fault with the book, and that is that the end of "Pattern Recognition" starts to let the plot wrap up just a little too quickly.
Still, not merely content to be behind the postmodern masters of DeLillo and Pynchon, Gibson finally closes the ranks with this novel. Through "Pattern Recognition," he proffers himself as one of the accessible yet intelligent authors on the postmodern condition. Familiar, yet deliciously different.
I enjoyed it immensely. The story was strange and interesting, the characters quirky and unusual, and the atmosphere thick and compelling.
Most of the action in Pattern Recognition takes place in several very different major world cities, and we get a well formed impression of each place. I get the feeling that Gibson did a lot of travelling to gather material for this work.
After reading it, I feel as if my own life has a stranger and more epic aspect -- that's a measure either of how impressionable I am or how good a writer Gibson is... or both!
With all that being said, I still found several flaws. There are factual errors and I had a few problems with the ending. First the errors:
- Gibson repeatedly says that computer animation is rendered by large groups of people. It's not. It's rendered by large groups of machines.
- He talks about the risk of someone listening in on a cell phone conversation "if they get your frequency". In fact none of the modern cell phones the characters are using would be analog, so they can't be easily listened in on in any case. And they all use the same frequency band.
I wish they'd run these books by some people with real technical backgrounds who can fix these problems before such a book gets published. It would be so easy to do.
- The ending seems rushed, and the mechanism by which all the plot intricacies are explained is too easy.
- Gibson deprives the main characters from figuring out parts of the mystery.
But all these being said, I still consider the book entirely enjoyable and a real work of art. If you've ever liked anything Gibson's done, get this one. Even though it doesn't take place in the future time of Neuromancer, our own time is strange enough to carry the same feeling.
On the other hand, the book takes a *really* long time to get going -- I mean about page 150 -- and at some points I felt like there really wasn't quite enough plot there to support the tense mood and the number of characters (at least three of whom I couldn't see a real purpose for). Without wanting to give spoilers since this is such a new book, it's about mysterious footage that appears on the Internet, and the various people--from magnates to otaku--who become obsessed with finding out who's creating the footage, why, and what it means. And the answer is a gorgeous one. But do I believe in the amount of danger and tension surrounding the answer? I'm not sure.
On some level, I felt like this was a "thriller" pushing really, really hard to be a literary journey of self-discovery. There's nothing in the least wrong with that--but it was the thriller trappings that at times did not quite work for me.
Opinion: I like it better than Neuromancer. The pacing is good, the character of Cayce it well set-up. Read more