Bookshelf: Pattern Recognition

Thursday, December 7th, 2006 @ 6:06 | printed words

William Gibson may need no introduction for the average tech-savvy people, but the cyberpunk movement’s creator’s outings since the famed Neuromancer (anyone remember the videogame?) have been lacklustre. So it was with interest that I noted his latest novel in Edge magazine’s typically noteworthy book pickings.

Pattern Recognition covers a lot of ground. It’s set in the world of the highest calibre marketing, in the contemporary world, with no science fiction elements of any kind. Almost every scene could be straight from his cyberpunk novels, highlighting how far we’ve technologically come in twenty years.

Not surprisingly for Gibson, the characters remain a bit sketchy. The protagonist, CayceP (by her internet handle) , is good, but the others don’t convince. I couldn’t get any grip on the mysterious Bigend, for instance, and the documentarist Damien with her vain Russian girlfriend is too much of a caricature.

Nevertheless, the plot remains highly interesting. It ends abrutply and in an unsatisfactory way, but this is clearly the intention. The themes and issues at hand are thoroughly contemporary; it feels very much a novel of the day. There is guerrilla marketing, jet-lag, memes, global branding, Apple, the emerging eastern Europe and vintage computer hardware.

I read it some years after publication, which may explain why some details feel a little pasted-on, if charming, like the way the characters are introduced by what you’d come up with if you googled them. On the other hand, had I read this when No Logo was still fresh, maybe it would’ve felt too much like a copycat work of what’s hot. Maybe the central theme of the 9/11 terrorist attack’s wake will feel too anchored in its own time in the future, but right now it feels suitably in the history and enough in the world of today.

Gibson has always been a brilliant moodsetter and this work is no exception. Every single location evocates a strong emotion and a vivid snapshot. The writing is always fluid and I’d say more refined than in his earlier work.

Some far-fetched elements aside – like the Russian sisters – Pattern Recognition is a very believable, very humane work. Yes, its cast is cut from the same fabric as the cyberpunk heroes were (apart from CayceP) and yes, it throws money, travel across the globe and technology around at wild abandon, but it never loses focus. Very much recommended.

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