Online Edition: Spring 2003

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

Pattern Recognition

William Gibson

Putnam ($25.95)

by S. Clayton Moore

With his eighth book, Pattern Recognition, futurist William Gibson opens new doors while resolutely keeping a finger on the pulse of the electronic underground. His female protagonist lends a cohesive sensitivity to a novel that fairly throbs with pulses of electronic intensity that shoot through a world where identification as well as information has become the currency of choice.

By setting the story in a version of present reality--one year after the September 11th attacks--he has also produced a novel that is vastly more accessible to the general reader than the cybernetic cowboys and net runners of his recent books Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties. These observations don't mean, however, that technophobes are welcome. If you've never been Googled, fear computer viruses as if they were Ebola, or your workstation bellows, "You've got mail," then this may not be the place for you.

Gibson writes, instead, for those of who revel in Bondian gadgets, German engineering, and the indescribable underground brotherhood of 'cool.' The author has never talked down to his reading audience, from the very beginnings of the award-winner Neuromancer to the globe-trotting adventures of Pattern Recognition's Cayce Pollard--her name a none-too-subtle nod to his first novel's data thief, Case, as well as to the cult surrounding the prophet Edgar Cayce.

Gibson also reprises some of the same themes here as Max Barry's blistering satire Jennifer Government, in which marketing has so corrupted the world that individuals take the last names of the corporations for which they work. Cayce's fears are much subtler, however, and operate something on the level of the virus-model marketing at the heart of the story. A design consultant for the new century, she uses her intuitive feeling for invading the public consciousness to advise massive ad campaigns. With the eerie drawback of a psychic allergy to aggressive marketing, she's both enraptured and trapped by the global aura of fashion, wearing design-free and timeless clothing while falling sick from everything from Tommy Hilfiger to a simple Nike slash across her field of vision.

Pattern Recognition holds the same dramatic tension as Gibson's previous novels. Cayce has a missing father, a notoriously wealthy and enigmatic client, and a growing obsession with "the footage," a series of seemingly interconnected fragments distributed through the Internet. Events launch our heroine on a search for the mysterious filmmaker and the meaning of the footage.

Within that idea lies much of the appeal of Gibson's books as well: the search for meaning. Unlike the standard throwaway techno-thriller, Gibson creates the sense of the world underneath, something akin to what Cayce calls the "mirror-world," she finds in foreign travel. Another great pleasure in reading these stories is in the minutiae of their exotic locales. Gibsonian heroes jump between cities with as little thought as they give to crossing a street; black cabs in retrogressive London and the shining chrome and brilliant neon of Tokyo can coexist in the same chapter. Between the lines are the details and over the details pour the story.

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Spring 2003 Table of Contents