'Pattern Recognition' is the latest fiction from William Gibson. the writer who became infamous after the publication of his epoch-making novel 'Neuromancer'. But while 'Pattern Recognition' is clearly the work of the same, earlier, revolutionary voice (twenty years have passed), it is a more mature, calmer novel, and is perhaps a better work of literature as a result.
The plot, put briefly, surrounds the search by Cayce (whose name is a pleasing nod towards the protagonist of 'Neuromancer') and others to discover the meaning behind, and makers of, a series of enigmatic, often abstract video clips. The clips are posted on the internet, left to be found by those who follow the unfolding series, but they are never traceable. While on unrelated business in London, Cayce finds herself involved in a venture to discover the source, turning her private past-time of discussing the video clips online into a project funded financially by a British marketing executive who walks around in a big, Texan cowboy hat (which he always wears incorrectly). To reveal more would be to spoil the novel, but it is enough to say that around this premise Gibson creates a highly intelligent, highly successful novel, part thriller, part exploration of contemporary technology culture, and much more besides.
'Pattern Recognition' is a masterpiece, and can be called such for a whole host of reasons. Cayce, the dominant character, is brought vividly to life, Gibson's super-sharp prose showing us Cayce's world as she sees it, and in doing so creating a reality that seems more real than real. We see things more crisply. The very best writers have the ability to grab the reader with their unique angle and focus on the world, and pull them completely between the lines. We become consumed by the words. One particularly poetic, recurring image is that of Cayce's soul catching up with her after each of her flights around the world, as though it is tethered to her by a long, stretched out wire, taking the slow-boat from place to place... Dialogue, inter-personal dynamics, split-second glances: all of these are handled as only a master author can. There is no shortage of reasons to admire 'Pattern Recognition'. Every page contains a sentence or a phrase or an observation that makes you think about things slightly differently, whether it be the state of democratic Russia in the 21st century, or the taste of a latte in the morning. Life seems slightly deeper, and more complex after finishing 'Pattern Recognition'. And the mind-expanding qualities of Gibson's writing never flag, from first page to last. So when you finish 'Pattern Recognition' you feel a part of Cayce. You have lived in her cutting-edge, liminal world, a setting which exists on the threshold between what we call today, and what we call tomorrow. And slowly we catch up with the future we are so delicately tethered to.
If you have never read Gibson, read this now, because it may well be his best book. Then again, it may just be another of his best books, and so you should also read it, because at worst, you'll simply have more good Gibson novels to read later. Whichever (and neither is bad), 'Pattern Recognition' is a must-read for anyone interested in the best contemporary fiction of 2003.