Pattern Recognition is a departure for William Gibson, who usually writes about a plausible if frightening future. This time around, he has set his story approximately in the present. Among today's preponderance of advertising, media perspectives, and rapid exchanges of information, Gibson has found something more terrifying than the future: now.
Gibson brings his perspective to today's media culture through the book's heroine, Cayce Pollard. Pollard has the strange-sounding but very plausible job of a "cool hunter" - someone who watches for marketable trends among trend-setters, and then helps corporations incorporate those ideas, designs, and concepts into various lines of products. However, far from being simply a corporate whore, Pollard also has a desperate need to find something pure in her world. And so her personal life revolves around dozens of fragments of film that have been found online, and are being catalogued and analyzed by a global community of fans. Idolizing these movie snippets as anonymous, unbranded art, Pollard finds herself in a crisis when she's hired by the founder of an advertising agency to track down the filmmaker responsible for the footage.
Unfortunately, as realism starts to break down under the James Bond story, Gibson seems to get distracted from the work at hand. He's best when he's reminding us that our world no longer has a solid foundation on which to rest its language. Characters aren't described - they're compared to the actors that they most resemble. Even Pollard's first name isn't definitively pronounced, although she discusses it. And these things work even better when Gibson takes aim. At one point, Pollard imagines a "Tommy Hilfiger event horizon, beyond which it is impossible to be more derivative, more removed from the source, more devoid of soul."
Gibson's prose zooms along, seemingly missing all of its extraneous elements. Occasionally the sentences seem wounded, as though they've been cleansed of adverbs, rambling clauses, and extended descriptions - all the things, in other words, that make writing fun to read. But more often this style conveys a sense of implausible velocity, and suggests a world that's become so commercialized that even sentences are what I'd have to call manufractured. Perhaps there's a lesson here, but Gibson has elected to hide it in a spy story that just doesn't work, especially when it's following prefabricated patterns. And that's a pity, because everything else in it is beautifully designed.
Publication date: 04/03/03