Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pattern Recognition - William Gibson

Pattern Recognition is the first William Gibson novel I've ever read, here's hoping it isn't the last.

It's 2002, Cayce Pollard is a "cool hunter" jetting around the world to help advertising agencies choose the logo that will grab peoples attention and by extension, help sales the most. However, her skill is seemingly tied to an extreme sensitivity to corporate logos and mascots. The Michelin Man for example is enough to induce a fit.

Into Cacye's life steps Hubertus Bigend. The owner of the company she's been first hired to consult for in London, who wants her to track down the maker of 'the Footage' seemingly random video clips that Cayce has been discussing online as they're released. Thus begins the meat of the story.

Being the first William Gibson novel I've read and yet also knowing that he's more famous for his cyberpunk means that at first, this was a bit of a strange read for me. Can this be called science fiction? Speculative fiction? Finally I realised that this is "simply" a thriller, a 'whodunnit' and a journey through our world that manages to be new and exciting.

This is after all, the real world Cayce is in, (though I was confused at one point, by a review which said that this book takes place in a world where 9/11 didn't happen, more on how wrong that is later) but it feels, purposefully or not, much less real. It's an almost ephemeral experience, the prose working to create the surreal experience of living like Cayce. For me that was the real highlight; the idea of being allergic to brands, to one degree or another was such an intriguing idea, that is used brilliantly in the story. Neither the cornerstone of the novel, nor merely a detail to be brought up and then quickly abandoned, this lets you understand Cayce all the more as a human being. If there's a single best thing about Pattern Recognition it's its prose.

Wonderfully enough, the story is interesting as well, with other characters who enter then, leave, before entering again, making you all the happier for their re-appearance due to their interesting and varied nature. They help drive the story along, though in some places they feel a bit too convenient: That old guy Cayce met in the street completely randomly? Turns out people owe him favours, favours that can help Cayce later on when she needs the specific kind of help he can offer. It works in the novel because of that wonderful prose and storytelling I mentioned above, but thinking about too much can make you wonder how much of the book is foreshadowing and how much is near-deus ex machina.

Which is pretty much the worst thing I can possibly say about Pattern Recognition: it may be too contrived in places, but it's the sort of contrived that passes you by without you even noticing it's nature until much later. It's a minor speck on the wonder that is this book. It really is that good; wonderful in an almost surreal way that's also really interesting in its analysis of the world we (used to) live in. If I could recommend Pattern Recognition more than I am now I would. And I'm recommending it pretty highly.

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