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Gibson’s latest novel breaks sci-fi pattern

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If Pattern Recognition is William Gibson‘s bid for acceptance as a mainstream writer, I don’t know that it is likely to succeed. I don’t believe it is, um, novel enough, to excite people to that extent. However, the book is an entertaining look at some of the trends of capitalism at the beginning of a new century.

Pattern Recognition is one of the most economical novels I’ve read in a while. About a half-dozen characters make up the significant cast, with the focus never leaving Cayce Pollard. Cayce (pronounced Case) is a rare young woman. Literally allergic to marketing symbols, especially logos, she has turned that aversion into a unique career as an arbiter of whether new logos are likely to succeed. Her ‘illness’ allows Gibson to have some fun with the character. For example, her clothes, which she strips of their labels, are called CPUs — Cayce Pollard Units.

Cayce’s strange career takes an even more intriguing turn during a trip to London. She encounters a woman, Dorotea Benedetti, a liason for a footwear company she is sniffing a logo for, who, unaccountably, sets out to scare her away from Britain. Oddly, her nemesis knows Cayce is particularly fearful of the Michelin symbol — information shared with few, except her family and psychiatrists. Meanwhile, the cold-blooded international rising star of marketing also has a special interest in Cayce. It turns out the angle that has attracted both is her affection for “the footage.”

The footage is a series of film clips released to the Web that has attracted the attention of enough browsers to become a cult favorite. No one knows who produced the segments of film or even what they mean, since they don’t tell a coherent story. Cayce’s obsession with the footage is innocent. She became aware of it and it struck a deep-seated psychological chord in her. However, the interest the film has attracted elsewhere is anything but pure. The marketing genius, Hubertus Bigend, (his buttocks aren’t described) puts Cayce on the case: She and another independent contractor are to track the footage to its source. He wants to exploit the film’s maker.

The attacks on Cayce continue while she is in Japan and Russia. But, she is not without resources. The daughter of a Cold War ‘security specialist’ who disappeared Sept. 11, 2001, she was reared with a healthy paranoia and schooled in self-defense. Ultimately, Cayce, with the help of Parkaboy, a friend from a website devoted to the footage, solves the mystery and emerges a wiser person for it.

Gibson’s small cast keeps the focus on the action throughout the book. Dialogue is direct and realistic. The plot moves along at a brisk pace until the end of the book, when it slows down for some exposition.

The only homage to Gibson’s role as the founding father of cyberpunk is the Internet being the locus of some of the most significant events. But for the Net, the footage could not exist. The most important clues to the mystery are found on a website devoted to the footage. Cayce and her friends and employers communicate as much by email as they do by phone and in-person. The acts of aggression that threaten Cayce involve tampering with her friend’s Cube and her iBook, as well as direct action. But, the core of the novel is as much advertising and its excesses as it is computers and the Web. Only in a world where the image of an item has become more important than its utility could the events described in Pattern Recognition provide a believable jumping off place for fiction. As someone who has attended parties where I am one of few persons without a Nike or Intel tattoo, I can confirm that Gibson’s take on what is to come is probably closer to fact than fiction.

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  • Eric Olsen

    Another very fine review MD, thanks!

  • http://w6daily.winn.com/ Phillip Winn

    Oh, the delicious irony of “Mac” Diva pointing out her lack of an Intel “tattoo!”

    Thanks for the review, MD, I actually wasn’t sure about this book before, but I’ve added it to my To-Buy list now.

  • http://www.ranum.com marcus j ranum

    I was unimpressed with the book; I felt that the whole bit about the mysterious artists was a direct rip of his earlier work in “Neuromancer” — remember the weird robot artist in the satellite at the end? I felt the endings of the two books were eerily similar.

    mjr.