205 of 223 people found the following review helpful
I feel I should start of by stating that this is my first William Gibson novel, so if you're looking for an evaluation of "Pattern Recognition" within the context of his other books, there's no point in reading further. That said, I found "Pattern Recognition" to be a remarkable, moving novel that was a joy to read. Specifically, it is a fascinating look at the paranoia and hope of the post 9/11 world. Gibson deftly considers the difference between crass consumer culture and genuine art, and then swirls them together via our information saturated culture.
As his protagonist, Gibson creates Cayce Pollard, something of a marketing prodigy whose claim to fame is that she can unerringly determine whether or not a brand logo will be successful on first sight. It is therefore intensely ironic that she has a phobia of all commercial branding that manifests itself through something that is akin to a cross between a panic attack and a migraine. Her revulsion to consumer culture is so intense, she goes so far as to remove labels from everything she owns, and dresses in the most stripped down manner possible.
Wrapped inside this duality is the additional one that Cayce, despite her odd phobias, who seems to be an inherently trusting and positive person, is grappling with the death, or more accurately the disappearance of her father in the events surrounding 9/11. Thus her vision of the future is touched by the background, but pervasive, fear that seems to have become part and parcel to our new century.
Cayce's escape from these twin phantoms is an oddly alluring film that is being released piece by piece on the internet (those familiar with Mark Danielewski's "House of Leaves" may see an echo here). The "footage", as it is known, enjoys a grass roots fascination globally that borders on cultish, except that the reaction is overwhelmingly positive, and disconnected from pop culture. The footage is apparently being released out of sequence, and seems to take place out of time and in some undefined location. As chatroom battles rage over whether it is a work in progress or a completed film, there seems to be no argument that the footage is a thing of shocking, pure beauty, totally untainted by popular culture.
However, it is when Cayce is asked by her enigmatic and enormously influential colleague to track the footage to the source that things get weird. It would be impossible to recount the plot here without spoiling it, but the dualities mentioned above, art and pop-culture, past and future, act, react and interact in fascinating ways. Gibson argues eloquently that the future is informed by the past, but not determined by it. Moreover, he seems to be arguing that there is no such thing as consumer-culture or art, but rather that they are all part of one increasingly global CULTURE. This blurring of the lines is neither good nor bad, but instead a consequence of the Information Age. As such, the definitions and boundaries of art are shifting.
I could go on, but I suspect that this is the type of novel that allows (and encourages) a multitude of conclusions. So I will finish by saying that on top of the fascinating, puzzling plot, and the interesting thematic elements, this is also a very cathartic book to read. While 9/11 plays a relatively small role in terms of lines of text, the horror of that day saturates Cayce, and the themes of the book. At it's conclusion, however, "Pattern Recognition" points the way to a release of those emotions, or more accurately of a way to place them within a personal historical context. Thus, this remarkable novel points to a chance for hope in our troubled brave new world.
51 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2003
After I read Neuromancer the first time (yes, I read it more than once), I joked that Gibson wrote it once and then removed about half the words. In Pattern Recognition, he recaptures that hard-edged, terse, yet gorily descriptive prose. It is, as Neil Gaiman says on the back cover, Gibson's best book since his great moment in science fiction history (I still think Neuromancer is the best science fiction book I've ever read). The interesting thing here is that PR is not science fiction, and I believe that is because, unsurprisingly, Gibson, despite the sparkling sentences, is not the same man he was twenty years ago. He has matured and his view of the world, while certainly still dark and paranoid, has changed.
Some will probably say that PR is science fiction. Without doubt, there is much in the book that smacks of the genre, especially the sub-genre Gibson is famous for creating. Technology and it's accouterment are ubiquitous: cell-phones, laptops, software, the internet, chatrooms, servers--all the usual suspects of a Gibson environment. Lights either hurt the eyes or barely exist. Surfaces are hard and shiny, clothing dark, edges lethal, and people all of the above. The lines between corporate executives, crime bosses, and government leaders are blurry, at best. And, as in all Gibson's work, the super-rich are above it all, somehow both less and more human than ordinary people.
However, this book is set squarely in the barely-past-September 11 present. Further, the technology all exists already. There is no prediction and no more speculation than any novel that invents institutions and locales. The hard affect and cynical view of our geo-political-social world are only science fiction out of habit; in fact, this is just Gibson describing part of the world that he sees around him.
Even more to the point is that Gibson reverses science fiction's priorities. No matter what the writers of science fiction say, the genre is first and foremost about science, about thinking of cool possibilities in the near (or not so near) future. People are basically methods of talking about the ideas. Yeah, the best science fiction uses the cover of the science to also talk about important ideas or trends in contemporary life, but if the science isn't there, most of even the best books in the genre fall flat on their computer screens (alas, this is probably true of even Neuromancer).
PR puts people first. The main character (Cayce Pollard, in a nod to Neuromancer's Case) is free-lance marketing consultant with a phobia for trademarks and logos, haunted by the mystery of her father's disappearance in New York on September 11. Her "tame pathologies"--a variation of another standard device for Gibson--make her a legend in the marketing world. Partly because she's dealing with the probable loss of her father, she's become obsessed with a series of small video clips disseminated anonymously over the web. The segments are beautiful and enigmatic in a way that attracts a cult following which meets virtually at "Fetish:Footage:Forum". Cayce's emotional pain, psychological distress, and passion for the unknown footage take her on a wild ride around the world looking for "the maker"--the creator or creators of these clips. We watch as she struggles to put the clues and, more importantly, her psyche back together. There is plenty of action, but ultimately this is a novel of interiority.
And Cayce's interiority is not the only important one here. There are real side characters with developed personalities and relationships built on talking and intimacy. Parkaboy, one of the "F:F:F" regulars, goes on impassioned tirades against other posters and Cayce spends hours responding to him both on the forum and through private email. Cayce and her friend Damien, a documentary film maker, have a long relationship full of communication about their fears and aspirations. All of them care deeply about what they are doing and work very hard at it. In fact, caring about what you do enough to put yourself on the line is what separates the good guys from the bad in the PR. Artists, waitresses, computer geeks, corporate execs, and even Russian mafia bosses are okay as long as they are doing something they believe in. Bad guys are those for whom "it's all actually about money."
Fortunately, the moral scale is not quite as stark as this. The "good guys" are still complicated and there's usually some good things about the "bad guys," too. There's plenty of sexual attraction and more than a share of glitzy, pretty people and things. But, there are also some grim realities and fully engaged people doing things they care about. This story affirms human relationships and the importance of doing that which you care about passionately. It is also a criticism of the importance of money in our culture, of what Charles Taylor calls our society's focus on "instrumental reason." The overt moralism and the centrality of human relationships are things I think Gibson is trying on as an author for the first time; his tentativeness is borne out by the fact that this is his simplest book, structurally, since Neuromancer. While I don't think he's duplicated the original genius of that book, Pattern Recognition is still a good book, and that despite our ability to see his lack of certainty. After twenty years, a marriage, children, probably a mortgage --the whole Catastrophe--Gibson has tired of creating only young, hard-edged, self-destructive characters and stories. He has discovered that all of life is not hard drugs, fast women, and faster guns. He's trying to write himself a new definition. Many writers in this situation have failed to mature as well.
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2004
My wife and I have been reading Gibson aloud to each other for years now. His prose is so, well, poetic, it really tolerates vocalization quite nicely. After "All Tomorrow's Parties" (the most beautifully written SF novel and one of the most interesting I have read recently), we were quite excited by the advent of "Pattern Recognition" and sprang for the hardcover.
We read it aloud on a long drive together, an hour or so at a time. The "mystery" of the plot and the oblique excitement to know what happens next that it engenders kept us looking forward to each reading session. At the end, however, we finished the novel with a vague feeling of disappointment, of loose-ends being tied up too neatly, of the resolution being essentially too banal for the detail and complexity that lead up to it. Perhaps that was Mr. Gibson's point. Dunno.
However, I must say, that in the months since, points of view about current world culture that are expressed (both implicitly and explicitly) in the novel have kept returning to our casual conversation. I conclude that much of the book is profound in some subtle sense that may not effect you right away, but which will have a long lasting influence on each reader's consciousness of popular trends and their expression in media and merchandise.
A warning: as with most of William Gibson's books, there are layers here. If you are a pop and internet culture enthusiast (not to mention technologically "aware"), that is, if you are "hip" you'll "get" almost all of the book. If not, well, you may not "catch" enough of the (many) cultural references or enough of the interplay between ideas, character, and plot to make it worth your read.
32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2003
Pattern Recognition (2003) is the eighth novel by William Gibson. Although all the novels seem to share a common universe, this work does not include any characters from the previous stories and, indeed, is set in the very near future, which might now be the past.
In this novel, Cayce Pollard is a design consultant who has the ability to recognize which logos and other designs will be successful, but does not have a conscious understanding of how she makes such judgments. The ability is probably connected in some way with her strong reaction to certain commercial logos and symbols, an aversion that developed during childhood and which has been highly resistant to therapy.
Cayce also has an unusual avocation: collecting and analyzing "footage" found on various network servers. This "footage" seems to be segments of a visual presentation involving a man and a woman in unidentifiable locations. Cayce is a member of a chat group @ Fetish:Footage:Forum which is also dedicated to the discovery of the origin and purpose of this "footage".
Cayce is based in New York, but travels to London to meet with Blue Ant, a client who wants an opinion on a new logo. Cayce stays at the new home of a friend, Damien, who is on a shoot in Russia. Cayce sees London as the mirror world, so alike yet so different. In contrast, she would probably see Canada as being so similar to the USA that it is much like another state. On the other hand, Tokyo is so wildly different that it can't possibly mirror the USA.
The following day, Cayce attends the meeting with her client and finds Dorotea Benedetti, representative of the design group that produced the logo, strangely hostile, even to the point of covertly burning a hole in Cayce's reproduced bomber jacket. When she returns to her Damien's place, Cayce discovers that someone has gotten in, despite the door lock and dead bolt, and has accessed Damien's computer system. She pushes redial on the phone and gets Dorotea's answering machine.
Later, Hubertus Bigend, owner of Blue Ant, asks Cayce to track down the origin of the "footage" for him. As she travels to various locations, including Tokyo, Cayce encounters other strange and hostile events.
Cayce is the daughter of a security consultant, Win Pollard, who was apparently last seen taking a cab in the direction of the World Trade Center on 9/11/01. Although Win is presumed dead in the terrorist attack or its aftermath, Cayce and her mother are having a hard time getting the insurance company to settle their claims. Since there was no body, Cayce still hasn't been able to grieve for her father.
As misfortune and malice dog her footsteps, however, Cayce remembers more and more of the knowledge imparted by Win and manages to outwit her persecutors. At the end of the book, she still isn't certain whether her father is alive or dead, but is able to accept the possibility of his death with both sadness and pride.
This novel has a surreal ambiance, much like Blade Runner, that creates a feeling of disassociation and confusion. It is as if the reader is sharing the jet lag that impairs Cayce's mental alertness at several points in the book. Part of the effect results from the polyglot mixture of characters that Cayce meets in London and elsewhere, a sort of vicarious cultural shock. Some of it comes from the interleaving of the real and the cyber worlds, yet the network access only involves chat and email.
This novel is stylistically and contextually interesting. Although I had my doubts in the beginning, the plot and characters gradually became more enthralling until I just had to finish the book. And I can assure you that I enjoyed the experience.
Highly recommended to Gibson fans and anyone else who enjoys high tech mysteries with a strong feel of a global network community.
-Arthur W. Jordin
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on February 27, 2003
William Gibson's latest might be classified as speculative present--a look at today's world with the excitement and verve of a science fiction writer's pen.
Logo-allergic protagonist Cayce Pollard's journey makes you appreciate anew the strangeness of our current reality by questioning the way modern companies manage memes and fretting over the dissolution of difference across borders.
Gibson's words, as always, capture details as if the volume on all his senses has been turned way up. You'll feel the ubercloned texture of a nylon flight jacket, hear the distortion in voices beyond the grave, see each byte of the movie fragments at the heart of the story.
And as with all great writers, Gibson throws in little truths that somehow capture the gestalt of an entire generation.
"I think it's all actually about money for him...Ultimately I find that that was the whole problem, with most of the dot-com people."
I nod sadly from personal experience.
One of the most striking things about Pattern Recognition can be found at the front of the book--before the story begins. Consider how Library of Congress coding attempts to classify the book: "1. Women private investigators.... 2. Business Intelligence.... 3. London (England)"
Given a story that includes Russian Mafia, Discussion Board Divas, Macabre Documentarians, Maverick Marketing Science, and Tokyo Otaku, it looks like the book's characters aren't the only ones currently struggling with pattern recognition in today's society.
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2003
Author William Gibson has always proclaimed the influence of Thomas Pynchon ("V," "Gravity's Rainbow") in his beginnings as an author. With "Pattern Recognition," Gibson not only tips his hat to Pynchon but also seems indebted to him through the book's structural content. Gibson's new book, and I mean no slight in saying this, feels like a re-work of Pynchon's classic "The Crying of Lot 49."
Heroine Cayce Pollard, like the heroine of Pynchon's book, finds a symbol that defies decoding and, seeking its answer, slowly gains a not inconsiderable amount of self-knowledge through treks across land and people. Rather than the Trystero in Pynchon's book, which remained a mystery at story's end, here Cayce seeks the Footage and its Creator; what she uncovers dazzled and delighted me. (And watch for the veiled reference to Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow" through Win; it changes so much about this book!)
The prose of Gibson in this book is masterful; he is acute and lyrical while noting how material comforts have come to desensitize us and lead to a sense of soul-decay. Truly, this is some of Gibson's most impassioned prose since "Neuromancer." His ear renders some of the most awe-inspiring descriptions and musings this side of Don DeLillo ("White Noise" and "Mao II"). However, whereas DeLillo misstepped slightly with his latest book, "Cosmopolis," Gibson's meditation is eerily, and deadly, on. I can only find one fault with the book, and that is that the end of "Pattern Recognition" starts to let the plot wrap up just a little too quickly.
Still, not merely content to be behind the postmodern masters of DeLillo and Pynchon, Gibson finally closes the ranks with this novel. Through "Pattern Recognition," he proffers himself as one of the accessible yet intelligent authors on the postmodern condition. Familiar, yet deliciously different.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2003
As a marketing guy with otaku for cool, I loved the first 60 pages, warts and all. Gibson immerses us in a world of uber-marketing, where people like Cayce Pollard can earn a living by consulting on logo design with a simple "yes" or "no".
I had hoped he would continue in this sleek, trendy, semi-readable style, but from about this point forward it turns into a fairly predictable, but engrossing and enjoyable story of Cayce's search for "the maker", the artist who is slowly releasing footage (snippets of video) into the backwaters of the Internet.
Gibson has matured in his prose style, so even though the contemporary subject will not resonate with fans of his earlier works, Pattern Recognition is more readable and less juvenile than his cyberpunk work, making it more palatable to mainstream readers.
Not perfect, but still fun. (Psst. William, too much email, not enough IM. Hang out with more 15 year olds.)
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
I'm a fan of Gibson's work, yet I still am amazed at how choppy and stilted his endings are compared to the rest of the work. This has got to be one of the worst examples, which is so frustrating given that the other 80% of the novel is incredible (thus I had to give it 3 stars rather than the 5 stars the rest of the novel deserves).
If you're a fan of Gibson, you'll enjoy the book, the last 3 or 4 chapters notwithstanding.
If you're on the fence about getting this book, [no spoiler here] the ending works, but barely - it could've benefited from another 4-6 chapters of better pacing and story. From his acknowledgment, I gather that Gibson struggled with this book and at least 3 of the last 4 chapters show it.
If you're new to Gibson, read some of his other works first...or stop at chapter 40 in this and skip to chapter 43.
J. Avellanet, Co-Founder of Cerulean Associates LLC
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 28, 2004
This is the first Gibson book I've read although I have always been interested in his other works. An search for marketing books one day on Amazon lead to the pre-hardcover release information of this book: I since followed the book's release and dispersal into the public realm with interest, and bought it to read on a vacation.
I finished the book quickly, as once it gets going (a few chapters in), the book is hard to put down. The character development is excellent, and plot exciting and adventurous like a good spy novel, and the descriptions of foreign places (Tokyo, London, Russia) full of detail and nuance.
However, for me, the strongest part of the book was its spot-on assessment of what modern people have become, and the culture in which we live: a global, digitally-enhanced and -supported lifestyle that becomes more and more pervasive as technology becomes cheaper and continues its encroachment upon nearly all parts of the world. Gibson has obviously spent time in chat rooms and message boards; has tasted what it is to follow an obsession (so easy to do with the internet, be it person or thing); has experienced the "soul delay" of business travel (three countries in three days); and learned the art of Goggling and other internet-based research techniques, for all these ideas give major structure to the novel.
Internet junkies, fashionistas, armchair travellers, and collectors of obscure objects will all be able to relate to this story. As disparate as those elements may sound, Gibson has neatly wrapped them up into one quirky person, the protagonist Cayce Pollard, who embodies most of Gibson's ideas and cultural observations. Gibson also uses several terms throughout the book, which you will either catch the first time they are explained, or seek out their meaning once you realize their place in the narrative. These terms seem to derive from marketing or internet lingo, which serve as idiomatic themes for the way the characters communicate (both in person and "virtually").
My only complaint about this book is that the ending is a bit of a let down. After such a masterfully paced biuld up, the ending didn't have as much impact as the rest of the book: the wrap-up seemed hasty, the characters not as well developed as the ones who were introduced earlier, and some of it seemed just a bit implausible. It almost seemed like Gibson had too good a time writing this book to find an adequate way to end it. But the book is still unquestionably excellent and modern, and a somewhat lazy ending doesn't detract from Gibson's wonderful prose style or his astute comments on human civilization in the 21st Century.
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 2003
Dropped into a new local bookstore Fri evening, wanting something to read, rather than reread, over the weekend. Ended up picking Gibson's latest, Pattern Recognition. First off...I liked this book - a lot; thinking it over I think it's my favorite of all Gibson's books - possibly because there's an underlying element of "sweetness" in the book's mood that keeps the pervasive vision of social anomie and paranoia at delicate bay.
The protagonist, Cayce Pollard is a "cool hunter" - an (expensive) trendspotter for hire. She's also an internet "footage" buff - footage being seemingly random snips of a movie (complete or work in progress ?) that's being released by an anonymous auteur (sp) to the obsessive interest of a growing clique of footage heads all over the world. She's also the daughter of an (ex) CIA honcho who seemingly disappeared in 9/11 & has a mother who tries to communicate w/ the dead (her Cayce's named after the Va. "clairvoyant"). Pattern Recognition operates explicitly in several arenas at once: 1. Cayce trying out new "brand" ids - seeing if they'll work or not; 2. attempting to find a pattern in the "footage" - where does it come from, what does it mean, who's responsible; 3. what's going on w/ the global economic system; 4. what happened to her dad. Being a responsible author, Gibson naturally ties all these threads together in a novel fraught w/ betrayal, dubious relationship, virtual friendships which solidify in the "real" world and hope.
anyway..i liked it.
"the poundin' of the drums, our pride & disgrace" barry mcguire/ pf sloane(?)