July 11th, 2004


Pattern Recognition, William Gibson

I hated Neuromancer.

Neuromancer is, likely, to be the book people remember after Gibson has died. If it didn't begin cyberpunk, it defined it in its final birthing stage. Cyberpunk now stood and walked and no-one could kill it completely: the daydreams of geek boys breathed life into it even when the corpse had been beaten. They hacked into cyberland, were unutterably cool, and had a ninja kicking girlfriend that might just have been poured into a celluloid casing looking just like Carrie-Anne Moss/Trinity in the Matrix. And I hated it. The whole thing just gave me the shits.

I vowed, in the late nineties when I read Neuromancer, that there would be no more William Gibson.

It was a straight out, no question thing. Taste is taste and I am but one minor consumer and not needed. And this wasn't like when I read Jane Austen's Emma and was just bored. It wasn't like the time I began reading that Asimov novel--title lost, but I'm pretty sure it was a Foundation book--forgot about it, and discovered it five years later, bookmarked at page forty and covered in dust at the back of a bookshelf. Nothing like that. It was more like that time I began reading Stephen King's Gunslinger, and I felt as if my mind was being mentally raped and something very unpleasant was being left to impregnate in my thoughts and later burst out, screaming King's name. Taste is taste: no more Stephen King, I said, and no more William Gibson.

Three weeks ago, I picked up Pattern Recognition.

I had, actually, been patiently waiting for the novel to come out in paperback, because ever since I heard about it in hardcover, I'd been curious. Super curious. The fact that the narrator of Pattern Recognition was called Cayce, and that it was pronounced 'case', echoing Neuromancer's narrator, and that word, did not turn me off. A novel that was a snapshot of modern consumer culture, as some called it, or a snapsnot of modern culture, had sunk it's own form of pattern recognition into me, and like some Gucci addict, I bought a copy.

It is, simply put, excellent. Pattern Recognition is a novel that captures the dawn of the twenty first century, and which will be horribly outdated in five years, and utterly undecipherable in another ten.

To talk about the plot of the novel is, really, to give away most of the book. The plot is a simple detective game of finding the maker of a film that is being released onto the web, and has a cult following. The company owner that Cayce is contracted for, wants her to find the maker of the film, so that he can market it. Reluctant at first, but soon plunging forward, she moves between London and Tokyo and Moscow, allowing Gibson to give snapshots of each country, while focusing on New York in Cayce's memories. They're fantastic snapshots, too, focusing on each city with a subtleness and attention to detail that renders each fully for the reader, but without having resulted in a sense of playing to the stereotypes of each.

In these snapshots, Gibson offers the chronicle of modern life. 'Net life is detailed in a matter of fact way, and the emails Cayce receives from characters she has never met, but which carry the weight of flesh and blood characters, are fully rendered. The flesh and blood characters are similarly rendered, but also have a cosmopolitan feel to them: they main characters are not just caucasian, and the secondary characters are not thing racial cliches--all of which would have been very easy for Gibson to fall prey too. But more than this, there is a sense, in the book, that interpersonal and global barriers have broken: Asians do not live just in some part asia, American multimillionaires are not confined to America, and having a meaningful relationship with someone is not stopped just because you have not seen the person.

Inbetween this, Gibson weaves the influence of popculture and logos. To some, I think it might make it difficult to read: without the references of Blade Runner or the hundreds of others that dot the narrative as metaphors or similes, you will be lost. To most, the references are a fairly generic thing, but I reckon it would slip past a younger audience. Outside the logos, Gibson leaves a dialogue about logos and how branding is used in our society to sell something, which is something we deal with every day of the week, but it's rare, now, that I stop and think about it. The advertising of products is constant and just there, but during Pattern Recognition, I found myself thinking about it again, rather than just shrugging and trying to avoid it and logos. (I'm one of those people who tries to avoid wearing logos, or anything that advertises. I've t-shirts with nasty logos and a pair of Docs, and that's as far as it'll ever go, and the t-shirts took me years to return too.)

In addition to this, the prose in Pattern Recognition sharp and visual and poetic, as if the faint promise from Neuromancer's prose has found its mark perfectly in the modern view of the world that Gibson has given.

Anyhow, time to end this post. The book is coolness.
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