Fiction Reviews

Pattern Recognition

(2003) William Gibson, Putnam, $25.95, hrdbk, 357 pp, ISBN 0-399-14986-4


In a very near future world Cayce Pollard is a design consultant with an allergy to corporate logos. This sensitivity allows her to vet design concepts and tell if they would be successful. Her father, Win, a Cold War security guru went missing in New York on September 11th 2001, but there is no proof of his death. Cayce is also a fan of 'the footage' - snippets of film posted in obscure places on the internet. This footage has inspired a cult following, with other sites on the internet devoted to it. While completing a contract in London for Blue Ant the company's owner employs Cayce to track down the author of the footage, seeing the enthusiasm the footage enjoys as a possible marketing tool. Cayce reluctantly agrees, but then her apartment is burgled, her e-mail hacked and her therapist's records copied. But she continues her quest in both the real world and on the net, but where will the trail lead?

This book reads like one of the new 'alternate world' games in which one follows clues both in geographical 'real world' locations, as well as in a virtual representation of that world in cyberspace. Gibson's protagonist isn't really stretched as much as a player of one of those games would be. In fact the least satisfying part of this work is the mystery; in effect one chance meeting leads to an e-mail address leads to the solution. Thankfully, despite this the book is still very engaging. The characters are all credible, and the factual part of the backdrop fascinating and, it's nice to see, Gibson hasn't completely forgotton how to write well (something I'd begun to doubt from Virtual Light onwards). I can understand why the book was marketed, in part, as a mystery as there's very little of what you'd call out-and-out SF in it. However, as I've said, the mystery aspect doesn't really work. In the end this is a fairly well-observed mainstream book about a particular aspect of modern society, with a couple of intriguing bits thrown in (Curta calculators, people's reaction to the footage, the unresolved diasappearance of Cayce's father). I wouldn't over-recommend this book, but I do think it's a welcome return to some kind of form for Gibson, so worth checking out.

Tony Chester


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