on 1 April 2006
This book has received some mediocre reviews on Amazon, and in my opinion those reviews are undeserved but perhaps understandable. This is certainly one of Gibson's best books, certainly of his recent books. It's not a science-fiction book at all, really, as it's set in the present day (2002) and features nothing sciency beyond the commonplace apart from steganography and advanced cryptography.
Is it "cyber-punk"? I'd say so, and in fact this is where I think this book's most amazing skill lies. It's a tale of modern day Britain, Russia and Japan, painting those countries with the eye of a modern American in such a subtle and beautiful way. The protaganist thinks of the UK as the "mirror world", since things are so similar to the US, but also so different, and this feels like the starting point for a clever technique that never becomes too clever for its own good: the mirror-world is a cyber-punk world, and yet it's our present-day reality, just being shown through an unusual and thoughtful lens.
I hope this is not too waffly a way of saying that this is a great book, but that people who loved Neuromancer for its unreality might find it a little hard to enjoy.
on 3 March 2012
This is not a radical departure from Gibson's earlier books as there are many common themes: the importance of looking cool on the streets and having an unlimited expense account, the awesomeness of Japan, and the use of bleeding-edge technology. And as in his earlier science-fiction stories, this book has been rapidly overtaken by events. However, as the book is placed in about 2002, not too long after the fall of the Twin Towers, which is some 70 years ago in Internet-time, it can be read as a historical novel, in a world before Facebook or Twitter (or whatever is the newest, hottest thing when you read this review) and before TSA went entirely mad.
The story is pretty straight-forward--the "footage", bits and pieces of what is suspected to a single film turn up on the web and cause a cult following. One of the footageheads gets the opportunity to try to find out who or what creates the film and why. The hunt goes from one exotic luxury hotel to the next...
I can't help wonder how weird a story Philip K Dick could have made from the premise.
on 11 March 2003
'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.
on 16 November 2011
Given what Gibson is known for, this book ought not to work and yet it makes you realise that his real skill is in observing the minutiae of life as well for an imaginary world as for the actual one giving the book a lot of substance. This is probably not cyberpunk though there are parallels in the kind of trend surfing, hot desking, blogging, globalised, postmodern (floating) world that Cayce Pollard (the protagonist) inhabits. It is certainly not sci fi extrapolation (being set about 4 minutes in the future). Yet I think I'd vote for it as Gibson's best book so far. (The original cyberpunk trilogy is cooler and stranger but his writing was less assured then.) Like James Bond after Roger Moore I find I am looking forward to each new Gibson more than the last. (I just hope he doesn't blow it with the equivalent of Daniel Craig - basically a SecondLife avatar which escaped into the real world.)
on 26 June 2006
This is at the end of a long road for William Gibson. Fans of the neuromancer et al. should be shocked: he can write now. The prose in this book is lovely. The flavour of what he does with that language is very close to some of the early cyberpunk concerns, but set in the present day (more or less). It's altogether a much subtler, more mature work, in a world where cyberspace exists, not as an idealized 3D medium but as a murky but fascinating medium none the less. Similarly he doesn't imagine edge cities of the future, but instead references those which already exist. It's about art and fashion and cyberspace and advertising, and it's not to be missed if the future of our culture fascinates you as it does me.
on 4 February 2012
This book is from Gibson's recent work and so much more approachable than his earlier "hard" cyberpunk. It is set in modern times and has a very savvy young female protagonist. (Showing how it has dated a bit, she brings her MacBook around with her - I guess it would be an iPad now). The pace for a thriller is gentle and it's shorter than the average thriller too. Gibson's prose style - rich but clear - suits the story perfectly and his intimate knowledge of Japanese culture creates a convincing setting with a lot of cyber-chic about it. This all combines to make it a very comfortable and unexpectedly endearing read.
on 25 May 2006
I feel that this represents a real step forward for Gibson, he now has the skill to set books in the current era rather than some fanciful future.
While his previous works are perfectly enjoyable this brings his edgy punk ideas to a world which we all inhabit.
Several interesting ideas are explored, in particular the concepts of mirror world, advertising techniques and the fascinating Curtas calculators.
The only dissapointment is the addition of the 9/11 storyline, it was a totally pointless inclusion in this otherwise excellent book
on 5 October 2014
Since I started listing them back in my rather autistic teens I have now read just over four thousand books, and this could very probably my favourite of them all.
There are other contenders for that title, of course: John Buchan's 'John Macnab', for its beautifully written amalgam of a rattling good adventure with its passionate evocation of an Elysian age largely of his own imagining; J. I. M. Stewart's superlative 'Young Pattullo' with its glorious portrayal of an Oxford that is simultaneously so reminiscent of, yet remote from, my own Oxford experience; and David Mitchell's 'Cloud Atlas' with its intricately concentric structure and mind-blowing melding of plotlines across ages.
There is also, of course, Anthony Powell's 'Dance to the Music of Time'. I tend to think of my life as falling into two distinct phases: that dull sepia-tone stretch of tedium and woe before I met my wife and the glorious 64 bit kaleidoscopic years that followed. I sometimes wonder, however, whether reading 'A Dance to the Music of Time' was a similarly significant watershed moment (well, scarcely a moment as there are twelve volumes). Still, as it occurs to me that Catherine might read this I had better scratch that last thought. Phew, that was close but I think I got away with it.
Anyway, I am rambling. William Gibson is probably best known for his cyberpunks novels, and in particular for 'Neuromancer' which really launched the genre. His cyberpunk works are set in a technology-ridden, post-apocalyptic near future with anarchy threatening all around. 'Pattern Recognition' is very different. Written in 2003 it is set in an unspecified but very close future in a world immediately recognisable to us.
It was also one of the first novels to engage meaningfully with the events of 11 September 2001. Gibson was about halfway through writing the novel when 9/11 happened. As Cayce Pollard, the novel's amazing protagonist, is from New York it was utterly implausible for her not to refer to such a cataclysmic event, and Gibson reworked the book to feature 9/11 in her back story in a very sensitive and moving manner.
Other aspects of the novel include an alarming dissection of the lupine mores of the world of advertising agencies where industrial espionage and intimidation are all grist to the copy mill. Gibson also invents an early form of viral advertising and throws in an immensely readable history of mechanical computing.
Gibson's writing is economic, even sometimes austere, but he has a great capacity for conveying his heroine's emotions. Cayce Pollard is one of the most empathetic and credible characters I have read.
Advertising consultant Cayce Pollard, renowned as a “coolhunter” because of her ability to assess the likely success of new logos and brand insignia though she actually reacts to branding and advertising as if to an allergen, arrives in London in August 2002. She has been retained by innovative new marketing consultants Blue Ant to judge the effectiveness of a proposed corporate logo for a major sportswear company. During the presentation, graphic designer Dorotea Benedetti acts towards Cayce in an especially hostile manner as she rejects the first proposal. After dinner with some Blue Ant employees, the company founder Hubertus Bigend offers Cayce a new contract: to uncover who is responsible for producing and distributing a series of anonymous, artistic film clips which have been released periodically in obscure backwaters of the internet. Cayce had already become obsessed with these clips (referred to by fellow fans just as “the footage”) and has been a leading participant in an online discussion forum theorizing on their provenance and meaning, setting, and other aspects. Wary of the risk of corrupting the artistic process and mystery of the clips, she reluctantly accepts.
A friend from the discussion group, who uses the handle Parkaboy, privately emails her saying a friend of a friend has discovered an encrypted watermark on one clip. They concoct a fake persona, a young woman named Keiko, to seduce the Japanese man who knows the watermark code. Cayce, along with an American computer security specialist, Boone Chu, hired to assist her, travels to Tokyo to meet the man and retrieve the watermark code. Two men attempt to steal the code but Cayce escapes and travels back to London. Boone travels to Columbus, Ohio to investigate the company that he believes created the watermark. Meanwhile, Blue Ant hires Dorotea who reveals that she was previously employed by a Russian lawyer whose clients have been investigating Cayce. The clients wanted Cayce to refuse the job of tracking the film clips and it was Dorotea's responsibility to ensure this.
Through a completely random encounter Cayce meets Voytek Biroshak and Ngemi; the former an artist using old ZX81 microcomputers as a sculpture medium, the latter a collector of rare technology (he mentions purchasing Stephen King's word processor, for example). Another collector, and sometime 'friend' of Ngemi's, Hobbs Baranov, is a retired cryptographer and mathematician with connections in the American National Security Agency. Cayce strikes a deal with him: she buys a Curta calculator for him and he finds the email address to which the watermark code was sent. Using this email address Cayce makes contact with Stella Volkova whose sister Nora is the maker of the film clips.
Cayce flies to Moscow to meet Stella in person and watch Nora work. Nora is brain damaged from an assassination attempt and can only express herself through film. At her hotel, Cayce is intercepted and drugged by Dorotea and wakes up in a mysterious prison facility. Cayce escapes; exhausted, disoriented and lost, she nearly collapses as Parkaboy, who upon Cayce's request was flown to Moscow, retrieves her and brings her to the prison where the film is processed. There Hubertus, Stella and Nora's uncle Andrei, and the latter's security employees are waiting for her. Over dinner with Cayce, the Russians reveal that they have been spying on her since she posted to a discussion forum speculating that the clips may be controlled by the Russian Mafia. They had let her track the clips to expose any security breaches in their distribution network. The Russians surrender all the information they had collected on her father’s disappearance and the book ends with Cayce coming to terms with his absence while in Paris with Parkaboy, whose real name is Peter Gilbert.
on 16 February 2013
I was first introduced to Mr Gibson's work whilst at uni. We studied Neuromancer as part of contemporary american literature. I remember admiring the premise of the book, and enjoying its topography, but I found the dialogue to be somewhat weak. I felt the book to be a bit young for me. This was later confirmed when the author himself confirmed that the novel was a book for adolescents. I left off reading his output for a while until Pattern Recognition came out. I was drawn by the hardback cover and it's interesting title. Personally I'm not the biggest of science fiction fans. I favoured horror growing up. I tried reading this book a couple of years ago. I'm sure I completed it, but the second half was lost on me. I've since re-read it, as I enjoyed the locations the first segment of the book was set in as it was familiar to me, plus I could recognise who the characters were based on. It's probably one of the first books I've read which actually depicts a world I part way inhabit. I felt that it was speaking to my generation that few other writers, with the exception maybe of Douglas Coupland, do). The book jacket says it is his most mature book to date, and this is probably the reason why I have only just began reading his books. I've since delved into one of his bridge books, and feel that it still has that adolescent feel to it. Writing about a near facsimile of our current moment, I think it has freed him up from creating a believable reality and has instead enabled him to focus on the concepts and the characterisation. In Cayce he has created a very believable character - I really felt for her, which is unusual in this kind of novel - and all the rest of the characters are distinct and easily discernable. This book kind of haunts you, and, although the plot isn't overly complex, there is enough there to keep you swiping pages. The descriptions are very vivid, and the dialogue is intelligent and much more credible. I felt the ending was a little rushed, but maybe I just read through it quickly to finish it. It felt a little bit like a dinner party whodunnit. Maybe I missed something, but I didn't quite follow how it reached the conclusion it did. Definitely one to enjoy re-reading, and I look forward to reading the rest in the trilogy. The concepts sound fantastic, and it's just the sort of thing I get excited about. Uber-cool, even if I write uber.
If you were looking for science fiction or at least a future ased novel, 'Pattern Recognition' is not the William Gibson you should go for. The book's events take place in 2002 and much of the book will appear mildly dated to today's reader; this however should not make you discount it as a solid piece of writing.
Cayce Pollard - the protagonist - is a 'cool hunter', supporting brands in figuring out what works and what not. As a character, she epitomises a fusion of the global teenager as described in 1990 by Peter Schwartz (in The Art of the Long View: Planning for the Future in an Uncertain World) and a bobo, as described by David Brooks (in Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There) - basically a somewhat left field individual with an aversion to conventional brands, an obsession with various subcultures and an avid fan of things Japanese.
During one of her standard engagements for a branding consultancy in London an alternative assignment presents itself in the form of finding the creator of a series of film sequences released online. These could point a way to a completely new form of marketing, obviously of interest to the agency's larger than life owner (he is seriously called Hubertus Bigend).
While the protagonist may sound a bit contrived to some readers I find that the author did a credible job of portraying her, as well as the branding aspects and early online forum culture in the book. Some other parts are perhaps a bit less natural, such as the side story of Cayce's father's disappearance.
Overall it is a good book, which will shed some light on parts of the turn of century subcultures for future generations, with a story engaging enough to have readers follow through, even through some slightly harder going sections.