Pattern Recognition

February 23rd, 2006

If someone were to set out specifically to write a novel that would attract Cory Doctorow’s attention, I think the only thing they could do beyond what Gibson did in Pattern Recognition would be to involve Theme Parks somehow. Regardless of what you think of Cory’s works, though, William Gibson’s is a name worth reckoning with, and this is easily some of his best work ever. Written in a day-after-tomorrow time setting (somewhat like Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon) and published at the beginning of 2003, Gibson’s book was one of the first within the SF field to deal intimately with the 9/11 tragedy and the profound effects it and similar events could have psychologically, both to individuals and to cultures. Its gifted, neurotic protagonist is charming and puzzling in her well portrayed idiosyncracies, and if his plot seems to hang together on a few too many coincidences to be entirely believable it is no less compelling in its intricacies and its unique grasp of the blended lives that many of us live between our online and offline endeavours and interests. Cayce Pollard has found a way to turn a unique curse, a severe phobic reaction to popular marketing images (logos, mascots, labels of any sort), into a successful career as one of the world’s most in-demand coolhunters. Not only is she able to filter out up-and-coming trends by immersing herself in the cultures from which they often arise and catching the change in the patterns around her, but her connection (and aversion) to what is powerful in imagery allows her to make accurate predictions on whether branding images and campaigns are likely to be successful. She’s in London consulting on just such a rebranding campaign when her client, a mega-rich marketing entrepreneur, approaches her regarding something that previous to that moment she had only considered a hobby: The Footage. The Footage is a collection of brilliantly composed and directed video clips that appear to have been cut from a period-piece, dialogue-free film, but scattered seemingly at random throughout the internet with no apparent clue to their origin or correct sequence. Fans of the powerfully compelling clips have gathered together in an online forum and post their theories about the film and it’s mysterious but talented creator, calling themselves Footageheads. Cayce, reeling from her personal loss after the September 11th, 2001 suicide bombings in New York, found the Footage and the Footageheads and involved herself deeply in the community. Now she’s offered an opportunity to track down the origins of the Footage, getting paid handsomely for the task and having the resources of a powerful international marketing firm at her beck and call…but at what risk to the artistic integrity of the work she loves? And why would her potential involvement in this project lead to burglaries of her residence and assaults on her person? And what does all that have to do with antique calculators? Part industrial espionage, part hipster technophilia, and part psychological drama, this is a complex book with interesting characters, a bleeding-edge plot, and prose rich in dream-like imagery. It’s hard to compare to classic Gibson because he has evolved so very much as a writer, but like Neuromancer this is a book very much rooted in the time in which it was written, although I think Pattern Recognition will age better. Still, I recommend you grab this one while its issues and themes are still hot…it’s worth it.

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