Book Review: Pattern Recognition
William Gibson started his career as a science fiction author by creating the internet and it has been all uphill from there. He is the founding father of the cyberpunk genre, one of the inventors of the steampunk genre that is even now industriously super-gluing clockwork onto your favourite fictional characters and every time you see a corporation quietly usurp the powers that used to belong to a state or individual he is the man who we all should have listened to when he warned us about it in Neuromancer. As time has gone by his books have matured considerably from the punk aesthetics of his early work and a curious thing has happened as technology has continued to develop at a startling rate. His books have gone from being set in the distant future, to being set in the near future and finally to being set only a day or so ahead of us.
One of these present day science fiction books is Pattern Recognition and honestly I feel like I am just phoning in this review because there is so much depth that is so easily available in Pattern Recognition that I barely have to dig into it at all. It is framed as a thriller novel, following Cayce Pollard as she tries to track what we would now call a meme or viral video to its source. Cayce is a fascinating character. Deeply effected by the September 11th terrorist attacks and her missing father; she has developed a psychosomatic allergy to advertising, brands and logos. She uses this allergy in her working life to help companies develop advertising campaigns that will sneak past the public's resistance to anything presented as advertising and to help companies develop distinctive branding that strongly triggers her sickness and is, as such, a strong logo.
She is hired by an advertising executive who recognises the marketing potential of a series of video clips that have appeared online. There begins Cayce's internal conflict, as she is already a fan of the video clips, considering them to be works of art and unusual beauty, something that she can genuinely enjoy without triggering her nausea as they are completely devoid of marketing or any commercial prospects. Her journey takes her all over the world, encountering many weird and wonderful people who exist in the post-modern world, making their art and their living by re-purposing the corporate output of years gone by and wrestling with the computer code that is increasingly the backbone of everything functional.
I have no intention of spoiling the ending to the mystery, I am not a monster. But the ending isn't really the point of the thing. It makes perfect sense within the world and it has exactly the right bitter-sweet quality that you can expect from so much of Gibson's work. It isn't simple, it isn't happy but it feels real and isn't that more important?