Pattern Recognition - William Gibson

25 May 2003

William Gibson falls into that group of sci-fi authors who, in my humble opinion, have great ideas but less than great follow through; Neil Stephenson is another. Neil Stephenson’s last novel, Cryptonomicon, was a change from that - he produced a period/contempory novel which managed to grip me thoughout. And by strange coincidence, this is also what William Gibson has done - produced a contempory novel which didn’t stumble.

Pattern Recognition is about a cool hunter, Cayce Pollard, that gets sucked into the hunt for the author of a series of mysterious film clips that are the latest ’net subculture. Set mainly in London, with bits also set in Tokyo (wouldn’t be a Gibson novel otherwise) and Moscow. It the London parts it manages to capture a sense of cool street cred that is fitting of its main character. This is in part due to the brand naming, whilst at the same time having the main character be anti-brands. Gibson, like Douglas Coupland whom he thanks in the acknowledgements, also reveals himself as a mac head, with an iBook and a Apple Cube (computers don’t come much cooler than an Apple Cube) featuring.

One obvious fear of a novel that features the ’net is that it will either be too technial, thus alienating the general populous (and let’s face it, shell commands a good story do not make), or dumb it down to the level of Hollywood. Gibson manages not to do this - the technical content is both easily accessible and at the same time accurate; only occasional corners have been cut for the sake of making the read easier, and that’s hardly a crime. I have heard it said that it is jargon heavy, but I’d disagree. But I’m a geek, so I might be biased.

In whole, this is one of the most rounded books from Gibson I’ve read, and certainly strikes me as one of his best novels (All Tomorrow’s Parties is good, and Neuromancer is a must read, despite not being the best book in the world - it’s just seminal, and thus a must (like Stephenson’s Snow Crash)).