on June 12, 2003
Author William Gibson has always proclaimed the influence of Thomas Pynchon ("V," "Gravity's Rainbow") in his beginnings as an author. With "Pattern Recognition," Gibson not only tips his hat to Pynchon but also seems indebted to him through the book's structural content. Gibson's new book, and I mean no slight in saying this, feels like a re-work of Pynchon's classic "The Crying of Lot 49."
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.
on October 9, 2006
What images would we choose to define our lives? Or a moment in our life? A couple embracing? A bird flying? An empty plastic bag floating on the wind, just grazing the ground? Two twin towers engulfed in flame and smoke?
As the only Gibson book that I've come across to take place unmistakably now, Gibson works his usual ubersleek cyberpunk magic, however in a somewhat tempered manner. Missing is the plethora of technobabble, the drug abusing protagonists, the violent sexual encounters. Although often dripping with amusing similes, this is a sleek and polished piece of intellectual science fiction.
Has Gibson (gulp), gone. . . . normal??
Maybe as normal as is possible, for him.
The story focuses around Cayce Pollard, whose works as a somewhat freelance marketing consultant. With her hyperactive intuition and psychological allergy to logos and name brands, she is able to immediately tell a marketing firm how the public will react to their new logos, brand marketing, etc. In her spare time, Cayce, along with thousands of other webjunkies, follow something simply called "the footage", snippets of video anonymously posted on the internet, in no discernable order. Online discussions abound on who is the maker of The Footage? What does it mean? Is each piece a separate creation, or do they all go together in some meaningful way? And what the heck does it all mean?
Life is relatively normal for Cayce, until a client hires her, under the table, to find the maker of The Footage. How to track down the creator of something that is anonymously posted on the internet, and spread via a 2003 version of YouTube or MySpace? Impossible. But given a limitless budget, Cayce and her connections learn that everyone leaves some kind of tracks, and everything fits some kind of pattern. And if there is some conspiracy, don't waste your time thinking it's all about you, even when it comes full circle.
This book isn't about plot. Sure, it's about plot, the plot is great, there's action, subterfuge, double crossing, web stalking. It's all there, and it works, very well. But Gibson has something much more subtle, much more fragile he's trying to show us. Or maybe I'm just seeing it there because I'm looking for it? No, it was there, floating just beneath the surface, waiting to be found.
Gibson veterans know how easy it is to get buried alive in what he's got going on in his head. This will be a quick and easy read for you. Gibsons virgins, don't worry, this will be an easy read for you too. In fact, this is the perfect introduction to Gibson for first time readers of his fiction. It's not that he's gone soft, or normal, it's that he's gone subtle.
The references to The Matrix and James Bond were greatly appreciated. As were the highly amusing comments on modern fashion.
4 out of 5 spaceships.
Reviewer: Andrea Johnson for Multiverse Reviews
on June 26, 2004
Plot Summary: Plot is well described in the editorial reviews.
Opinion: I like it better than Neuromancer. The pacing is good, the character of Cayce it well set-up. By page 50 I was intrigued enough to be hooked, which is always good. Gibson seems to make moderately large time jumps in his novels that the reader is supposed to fill in the blanks of (or sometimes the character will "flashback" in some literary device kind of way), he also will spill some twist out into the story without much buildup and the reader is supposed to catch it. I really like that, but I bet that can get annoying to some who will have to go back and see what just happened (like I have to sometimes). There is not much humor in this book. The conclusion was good but not entirely satisfying to me. I felt some things were left really unaswered, but Cayce apparently didn't feel that so I'm ok with it.
Recommendation: Read it. I reluctantly read Pattern Recognition after not liking Neuromancer very much. The style is clearly the same which I liked in both novels, I enjoyed the story in Recognition much more than Neuromancer. It was more contemporary. Nothing really far fetched or science fictiony in this novel. I will definately read more of Gibson's stand alone works as they come. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
on May 16, 2004
Gibson takes us on a relatively sedate (for Gibson, anyway) tour of marketing and image. His main character, Cayce Pollard, is a 'cool-hunter'. She has an exquisite sense of what will sell and (more importantly) what won't. For all of her talent, she cannot handle strong marketing images, and has a severe reaction if exposed to some of the more obnoxious forms of marketing.
Outside of her work, Cayce is drawn to 'the footage': mysterious bits of a film that make their way to the Internet. The footage is endlessly discussed on an Internet forum, as people deconstruct the existing pieces and hope to find more pieces.
Cayce is hired to determine who is actually behind the footage. A powerful executive is interested in the footage for the branding and marketing that it has developed. It is well-known, but its popularity is purely from word-of-mouth. It has hundreds of fervent followers, all hoping to figure out what is the message behind the footage. The executive reasons that there must be something to be mined here, some way to make more money.
Cayce sets off on a journey to unravel the mystery. She does unravel the mystery, travelling through Europe, Japan, and Russia to track it down. The creation of the footage turns out to be a mysterious, almost mystical process (which I won't spoil here).
The book is well-written and moves along briskly. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the resolution of the mystery; it just seems a bit too far out there to be believable. I did not like the last few pages of the book, which read like an epilogue to show the reader that everything worked out perfectly fine. The ending, especially the last few pages, keep me from giving this book a fifth star. It's a good book, but not a great one.
on March 28, 2004
This is the first Gibson book I've read although I have always been interested in his other works. An search for marketing books one day on Amazon lead to the pre-hardcover release information of this book: I since followed the book's release and dispersal into the public realm with interest, and bought it to read on a vacation.
I finished the book quickly, as once it gets going (a few chapters in), the book is hard to put down. The character development is excellent, and plot exciting and adventurous like a good spy novel, and the descriptions of foreign places (Tokyo, London, Russia) full of detail and nuance.
However, for me, the strongest part of the book was its spot-on assessment of what modern people have become, and the culture in which we live: a global, digitally-enhanced and -supported lifestyle that becomes more and more pervasive as technology becomes cheaper and continues its encroachment upon nearly all parts of the world. Gibson has obviously spent time in chat rooms and message boards; has tasted what it is to follow an obsession (so easy to do with the internet, be it person or thing); has experienced the "soul delay" of business travel (three countries in three days); and learned the art of Goggling and other internet-based research techniques, for all these ideas give major structure to the novel.
Internet junkies, fashionistas, armchair travellers, and collectors of obscure objects will all be able to relate to this story. As disparate as those elements may sound, Gibson has neatly wrapped them up into one quirky person, the protagonist Cayce Pollard, who embodies most of Gibson's ideas and cultural observations. Gibson also uses several terms throughout the book, which you will either catch the first time they are explained, or seek out their meaning once you realize their place in the narrative. These terms seem to derive from marketing or internet lingo, which serve as idiomatic themes for the way the characters communicate (both in person and "virtually").
My only complaint about this book is that the ending is a bit of a let down. After such a masterfully paced biuld up, the ending didn't have as much impact as the rest of the book: the wrap-up seemed hasty, the characters not as well developed as the ones who were introduced earlier, and some of it seemed just a bit implausible. It almost seemed like Gibson had too good a time writing this book to find an adequate way to end it. But the book is still unquestionably excellent and modern, and a somewhat lazy ending doesn't detract from Gibson's wonderful prose style or his astute comments on human civilization in the 21st Century.
on February 18, 2004
My wife and I have been reading Gibson aloud to each other for years now. His prose is so, well, poetic, it really tolerates vocalization quite nicely. After "All Tomorrow's Parties" (the most beautifully written SF novel and one of the most interesting I have read recently), we were quite excited by the advent of "Pattern Recognition" and sprang for the hardcover.
We read it aloud on a long drive together, an hour or so at a time. The "mystery" of the plot and the oblique excitement to know what happens next that it engenders kept us looking forward to each reading session. At the end, however, we finished the novel with a vague feeling of disappointment, of loose-ends being tied up too neatly, of the resolution being essentially too banal for the detail and complexity that lead up to it. Perhaps that was Mr. Gibson's point. Dunno.
However, I must say, that in the months since, points of view about current world culture that are expressed (both implicitly and explicitly) in the novel have kept returning to our casual conversation. I conclude that much of the book is profound in some subtle sense that may not effect you right away, but which will have a long lasting influence on each reader's consciousness of popular trends and their expression in media and merchandise.
A warning: as with most of William Gibson's books, there are layers here. If you are a pop and internet culture enthusiast (not to mention technologically "aware"), that is, if you are "hip" you'll "get" almost all of the book. If not, well, you may not "catch" enough of the (many) cultural references or enough of the interplay between ideas, character, and plot to make it worth your read.
on February 14, 2004
started reading William Gibson over the summer, having become inspired to do so after reading up about one of my old favorite tv shows, Max Headroom (the series, not the Cinemax thing). The article mentioned cyberpunk, and how Gibson's Neuromancer was a huge influencing factor for the tv series. Having played, er, "Shadowrun," a Nintendo game directly influenced by Neuromancer, and digging some cyberpunk movies like The Matrix I asked a friend, and later my stepfather, if the book was any good. Both emphatically agreed that it was, and my journey exploring the works of cyberpunk's g0dh34d Gibson began. ...
I started with Neuromancer of course. Which I thought was "okay." Then, several months later, I moved on to "Idoru," which I also thought was okay. And then I read his short story "Burning Chrome," which I actually enjoyed a lot. More recently, I read another one of his sprawl books, Count Zero. I read that book right after I read the brilliant Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which is not an order that I recommend. Snow Crash goes places that Count Zero should have. For example, that whole voodoo thing in Count Zero is not as deeply fleshed out/explored as Sumerian mythology is in Snow Crash. But, I guess that's another story for someone who actually cares to write some bloated English comparison paper.
I just finished his most recent tome, Pattern Recognition, and I highly recommend it. Here's the official blurb about the book:
Cayce Pollard is an expensive, spookily intuitive market-research consultant. In London on a job, she is offered a secret assignment: to investigate some intriguing snippets of video that have been appearing on the Internet. An entire subculture of people is obsessed with these bits of footage, and anybody who can create that kind of brand loyalty would be a gold mine for Cayce's client. But when her borrowed apartment is burgled and her computer hacked, she realizes there's more to this project than she had expected.
Unlike Gibson's previous novels, which have been set in the future, PR is set in the near present, in a world we're all too overly familiar with. September 11th is a quiet, yet persistant character. Email is a primary form of communication between disparate strangers who become quick friends over commonalities they wouldn't easily find in real life. Pr0n and p33n spam fill inboxes. I was very easily able to imagine Cayce's world, and follow her and her changing locales (London, Tokyo, Moscow, Paris) easily. And Cayce is a wonderfully flawed heroine. It's amusing that someone in marketing would have a panic disorder (or "allergy," as Cayce calls it) over certain logos and icons, such as the Michilin Man, or Tommy Hilfiger. In a way, it reminded me of Indiana Jones, the bravest man on the planet with a serious fear of snakes.
Gibson skillfully uses the search for the meaning and creator of the "footage," mysterious movie snippets that are appearing on the Net and which are under hot debate by members of a footage subculture, to really pull the reader through the story from beginning to end. We want to know more about the footage, but Gibson only provides us little glimpses of what the footage really is, leaving us to Cayce's speculations and our own about what the footage represents. The mystery of the footage becomes the focal point that successfully weaves our interest in the novel. Secondary characters and events only furthered my interest in finding out what happens next, what new bit of information Cayce has uncovered, and how does that help me try to find out who the maker of the footage is before Cayce does. Yes, in a way, I was an active participant in the novel. Trust me, that sounds silly to me.
If you can pick it up, I highly recommend this book. It's worthy of a read or three. You won't be disappointed.
As an aside, anyone else notice that the hero of Neuromancer and the heroine of Pattern Recognition have the same name... Case--Cayce. *shrugs*
on December 29, 2003
I've never been a Gibson fan. I've read a few of his books out of some sort of obligation to sample the genre (cyberpunk, that is) and been less than impressed. I picked up Pattern Recognition on a whim and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
Two of my qualifications for rather or not I consider a book good is what (if anything) sticks in my mind after reading it, and rather or not I reread it. In the case of the other Gibson books I've read, nothing much sticks in my mind, and I have no desire to reread them.
With Pattern Recognition, I found most of the characters memorable. Several of the plot twists surprised and impressed me. The settings resonate. And I just finished reading it for the second time.
Gibson's tendency to dwell on details for what can be an inordinate amount of time often bothers me in his writing. There are places in Pattern Recognition where this characteristic becomes jarring, interferes with the pacing, or frustrates. That's really my only quibble with the book, though.
The protagonist Cayce is completely believable. Her talents are quirky, but make sense in the context of the character. She doesn't fit into one of the nice neat boxes far too many science fiction authors tend to force female characters into. Sorry, boys. She has feelings, but can rescue herself, doesn't fall for the obvious relationship lure, and has a mind of her own. It's quite a relief to see an author describing a real woman, who is not idealized.
One of the pluses, for me, was Gibson's use of what you don't see, of what he doesn't describe. The "footage" which is the heart of the mystery is only described in limited detail and small samples. Gibson describes the reactions of characters to the footage, but very little of the footage itself. The reader must supply their own idea of what sort of images would be so compelling or so haunting. I don't think this book would have been half as interesting if Gibson had described the footage in his usual minute detail.
If you're not a Gibson fan, forget what you've heard and read this book on its own merits. If you are a Gibson fan, read the book without keeping the rest of the author's works in mind. On its own merits, this is a wonderful book.
on July 28, 2003
Author William Gibson has always proclaimed the influence of Thomas Pynchon in his beginnings as an author. With "Pattern Recognition," Gibson not only tips his hat to Pynchon but also seems indebted to him by means of the book's structural content. Gibson's new book, and I mean no slight in saying this, feels like a contemporary re-working of Pynchon's classic "The Crying of Lot 49."
Here, 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. Cayce seeks the Footage, an enigmatic series of videos that possess a singularity contrary to the postmodern age of consumption and materialism. Keep in mind, however, that this is also Gibson's first book on the just past' rather than 'near future,' so almost all sci-fi tendencies are absent.
One of Gibson's most wonderful attributes is his prose. Here, he is acute and lyrical while noting how material comforts have desensitized us and led our culture to a sense of soul-decay. While always an elegant stylist, 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 mis-stepped 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 most accessible yet intelligent authors on the postmodern condition. There is much to decipher and enjoy with this read.
on July 9, 2003
Since his last book, William Gibson seems to have cross-pollinated with Connie Willis (Bellwether) and Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon). The result is a fascinating book that is so about right now that it's written in the present tense.
The only thing other than work or sleep that kept me from finishing this book was the occasional trip over to google to look up the cultural references. Other than the Buzz Rickson's jacket (they didn't make a black MA-1, or at least not until after the book came out...) it was all dead on. The original model of Bibendum really was creepy, and it's always fun to get peeks into the bizarreness vortex that is Japanese mass culture. I may have to put a Rickson's jacket on my wishlist this year. Do you hear me Amazon?
Having done a few junket trips in my life, I groaned every time poor Cayce got on a plane, and kept a constant estimate in the back of my mind of how far away her soul was. It's always interesting to see a male author try to draw a believable female main character, and I think Gibson did a very solid job. Only a postmodern heroine would beat up two thugs by accidentally remembering childhood lessons in bar mayhem.
Fans expecting an sfnal book will probably be dissappointed, but if you're willing to take the book on its own terms, it's a great read.