Reviewed: October 12, 2005
By: William Gibson
Publisher: Berkley Books
367 pages, $10.99
William Gibson built his reputation
writing science-fiction, and was one of the founders of the style known as
cyber-punk, which gave the general population such words as “cyberspace” and
“virtual reality”. With Pattern Recognition the style remains much
the same - dense neo-noir scenes in the present tense with lots of technological
references - but the setting is now. In fact, the paperback edition would
actually have a setting you would have to call “then”, because this book takes
place not all that long after the iconic moment we have come to call “9/11”.
Cayce Pollard lost track of a father
on the day the Twin Towers fell. He might have been in one of them. Win Pollard
worked with security systems and the nature of his work was such that it was
hard to tell just where he was at any given time. But he’s been missing since.
When we meet Cayce she is arriving
in England, which she thinks of as a Mirror-World to her native North America,
She is waiting for her soul to catch up with her.
She feels that “her mortal soul is
leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical down the vanished
wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above
the Atlantic. Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must
be reeled in, upon arrival, like lost luggage.”
What an apt description of jet lag,
and we’re only on page 2.
Cayce works in promotions. She doesn’t
design ad campaigns and product brands, but she has a hypersensitive knack
for telling what will work and what will not. The downside is that she is
actually “allergic” to certain logos and product brands, and has a physical
reaction to them if she is overloaded.
Cayce is very much plugged into the
wired world, though not in the physically “jacked in” manner of earlier Gibson
protagonists. She carries an iBook through much of the novel and a good deal
of the dialogue is actually exchanges with various e-mail correspondents from
all over the world.
A good many of them are obsessed with
a web-movie that has been appearing in out-of-sequence segments the fans call
“the footage”. The fans, of which Cayce is one, are called footageheads, and
they lovingly watch, rewatch and try to make sense of each new segment as
it appears. So far there have been 135 of them. It’s not clear if they are
all connected, or what order they should be viewed in, or even if that matters.
In London, Cayce finishes one contract
and gets another that fits right in with her obsession. Her employer wants
her to track down the origin of the footage. This task takes her right round
the world to Japan, back to England, on to Europe and, ultimately, to Russia.
Cayce’s not some sort of secret agent type, so when the going gets a little
rough at various points along the way she needs help. This comes in both physical
and cyber form from a number of different sources. Cayce is the one who puts
the seemingly disparate pieces all together, but this isn’t a novel about
a super woman type.
One of Cayce’s problems stems from
her loss. The impact of 9/11 looms large in her life, as it did for Gibson
while he was writing this novel, and she also has to cope with the mania of
her New Age mother, who is convinced that she is picking up white noise messages
from her missing husband from the aether of the afterlife.
On a more mundane level, there’s also
a fair amount of cutthroat office politics in this story, the type of thing
that could take place in any business managed by a relentless entrepreneur.
Pattern recognition itself is defined
as "the act of taking in raw data and taking an action based on the category
of the data" and comes from the study of machine learning, a long winded
way of defining what we all do with the reality around us all the time.
Cayce has to sort out the patterns
of her life, of the footage, of the office guerrilla warfare aimed at her,
and of her own personal reactions to losses in her life. All of these things
make for an engaging, if sometimes confusing, novel. Gibson’s fans will not
be disappointed by it, and those readers who don’t like science fiction may
find its present day setting and attractive place to meet the writer.