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February 2003
© 2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
Putnam Pub Group Hardcover: ISBN 0399149864 PubDate Feb 03
Review by Alex Lightman
368 pages List price $25.95  
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Pattern Recognition is about a Cayce Pollard, a 32 year old American woman obsessed with finding out whether her father was killed in New York on Sept. 11, and with finding out who is using her corporate-logo induced panic attacks and other means to mess with her head. It's a Hollywood truism that by the end of a script the hero must either get what she wanted, or never be able to get it, and Gibson comes through, with these goods, along with the most startling descriptions and settings that one could ask for in a nearly true novel. Having recently been in London and Tokyo, cities in which about 5/6th of the book takes place, I can attest to William Gibson’s extraordinary talents for describing settings.

If you like Easter egg hunts, finding Waldo, playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, or any other ‘find the hidden connection’ games, you’ll like William Gibson’s seventh book of fiction. Pattern Recognition is the name of the book, probably because this is what the reader ends up doing – seeing the connections between history, media, the news groups on the Internet, in the outer world. Reading is an act of unpacking meaning condensed into words and phrases, and readers of other Gibson books will enjoy finding the evocative echoes of earlier works. The hero's name, the blurring of the real and the virtual,  “the color of dried blood”, a prototypical albeit accidental implant that increases productivity.

I was disturbed by how much the New York Times cover page review (entitled “Coolhunter”) had missed in describing the book. This book could have been called "The Blurred World", since everything bleeds into everything else, like the twice used example of writing on a napkin and seeing the letters expand into indistinction. One of the blurs sees the Military-Industrial Complex transformed into the Military-Industrial-Travel-Entertainment -Energy-Corrections-Security-Advertising-Internet-Complex, as there is no clear distinction between where one of these industries stops and the other starts.

Pattern Recognition is supposedly what Cayce Pollard does, but she uses her intuition more than patterns. In those instances were patterns are recognized, other people, for love, lust, or in return for a valuable object, do the recognizing. Case is half-journalist (most of what she learns is simply by sending email and asking questions, and occasionally Googling) and half-detective. The plot felt very much like a treatment for a series pilot by Chris Carter to redo The X-Files, but with art direction by the Wachowski Brothers. Cayce Pollard is like Fox Mulder, following the clues while being tracked and followed by an international conspiracy that blurs business, government, and computers. Both could say, “I want to believe.” Since Gibson wrote two (of the best, IMHO) X-Files episodes, perhaps this isn’t a coincidence. The show would be very logo and sponsor friendly, since one could imagine close ups of logos, with a cut to Cayce screaming in agony from the sight of the logo, thereby imbuing the it with greater emotional impact.

And the W Brothers, the makers of the Matrix? The Matrix took so much from Gibson’s Neuromancer, that I found it fitting that that Gibson could return the favor and make a book that creates images that, more than anything, resemble the cinematography of the movie.

Pattern Recognition includes hundreds of instances of such detail – a page of description covering what would be only a second or so of real time activity – that I felt as though William Gibson must go in and out of ‘bullet time” and slow everything down, to notice every brand, logo, design, price, and whether it fits the owner or local bystander. Pattern Recognition is the sort of book that Farscape’s sex kitten Chiana, who will slow things down, and then describe the scene for her fellow space castaways, would write if she were on Earth, and had lost interest in sex.

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