Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

William Gibson: Pattern Recognition

The future has finally arrived for William Gibson, the prescient science-fiction author who famously coined the term "cyberspace" in his highly influential 1984 debut Neuromancer, and has witnessed the present playing a frantic game of catch-up ever since. Set squarely at the turn of the millennium, his slippery, texturally rich Pattern Recognition confronts the here-and-now, but it has the uneasy feeling of science fiction, as if humans have yet to grow accustomed to the world they've created. Winding through a globetrotting thriller packed with justified paranoia, international conspiracies, and an expansive supporting cast, Gibson lifts the sturdy framework of a John Le Carré novel, but colors his book with pointed observations on globalization, commercialism, and relationships in the Internet age. Reportedly inspired by the title of Naomi Klein's No Logo, Gibson's cagey heroine Cayce Pollard has such an aversion to trademarks that she sandpapers the labels off her elegantly inconspicuous clothing and literally convulses at the sight of a Tommy Hilfiger garment or the Michelin Man. Though she's technically a freelance consultant for advertising firms, her ironic and deeply ridiculous job sends her zipping across the planet as a "coolhunter," a person whose sole purpose is to look for the Next Big Thing and have the good taste to know it when she sees it. "Yea" or "nay" are the only words that need to escape her lips in her latest assignment for Blue Ant, a marketing agency that's working on a logo for one of the world's largest shoe companies. In the downtime, Pollard burrows in front of the computer in her friend's London apartment and joins her fellow obsessives in "Fetish: Footage: Forum," a discussion group trying to parse out the meaning of a mysterious series of film clips whose creator is the subject of blind speculation. As the buzz bleeds into larger circles, Blue Ant's billionaire founder gives Pollard unlimited resources—as well as a bugged cell phone and iBook—to track down the clips' origins. Her search leads her from a lovelorn computer geek in Tokyo to Russian gangsters in Moscow. Her mission also sheds light on the more private mystery of her ex-CIA father's disappearance in New York City on Sept. 11. Though Gibson crafts a satisfying and even somewhat conventional narrative, his elegantly clipped prose style has a powerfully destabilizing effect that not only puts readers on edge, but also suggests a fragmented world where people haven't quite found their bearings. His larger points about the problems of global culture and co-opted art are well integrated, but better still are his subtler observations on modern phenomena such as Internet groups, which can create strong bonds over the tenuous and often deceptive condition of anonymity. As the prismatic title suggests, Pattern Recognition stretches the enigmatic film fragments into a potent metaphor for the new century, a time when people are scrambling to make sense of an unfamiliar and ever-changing environment.


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