Pattern Recognition by William Gibson was described as a kind of science fiction thriller, but it is very much more the latter than the former. Gibson is most famous for his novel Neuromancer, a classic of the cyberpunk genre, and while this one has some elements of that (mainly its focus on technology) it is also a lot more mainstream. At times it also reminded me of Cory Doctorow (especially Little Brother) and Neal Stephenson (especially the ‘modern day’ parts of Cryptonomicon).
The main character here is Cayce Pollard, who has a sensitivity to symbols and logos, using this unusual skill to work as an advertising consultant. She starts off in London consulting for the Blue Ant corporation. She is obsessed with something called ‘the footage’, a series of video clips released anonymously over the internet, with much speculation about their origin and meaning. It turns out that the president of Blue Ant shares her interest and hires her to track down the maker of the footage, which takes her to Tokyo and Moscow on the trail of a possible conspiracy.
The plot here really is a tight thriller, and I read it all quite quickly, caught up in the action and desperate to see how it would all unfold. But Gibson is a good writer, and there is some substance underneath all the style too. There were some interesting ideas about globalisation, about product brand and labels, about the internet, and about ‘pattern recognition’ and the way we look for patterns and meaning in events.
The novel was written and is set just after 9/11, and one thread of the novel concerns Cayce’s missing father who disappeared in New York that day. Beyond that, Gibson also really captures the feeling that it was almost the end of history, the end of an era, and that the new world emerging post-9/11 was subtly different from before. The idea of history and the way that history will view our own time is an interesting theme in the novel overall.
It has its flaws (chiefly the endless name-dropping of brands and the fact that it now seems a bit dated in terms of the technology). It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, and indeed it is quite difficult to pin it down and classify it, but I liked it nonetheless. Gibson has written two loosely connected sequels, Spook Country and Zero Hour, which I may end up reading at some point. But in conclusion, I really quite liked Pattern Recognition.