Pattern Recognition by William Gibson (Putnam), 356 pages, $39 cloth. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Speculative fiction writer William Gibson's new novel doesn't imagine the future - it just takes present reality one step further. The present in Pattern Recognition, where logos, branding and globalization are, of course, major focus points, is bleak and dense, grey with splashes of bright neon colour.
So is Gibson's prose. The narrative stutters and fails and sputters to life again, and when it runs smoothly becomes impossible to stop reading until the next sputter. As usual, there's also an underlying current of incredible wit.
He has created a wonderful character in Cayce Pollard, a "cool hunter" or design consultant with spooky intuition and hilarious "allergic" reactions to certain logos.
Fearless in the face of danger yet deathly terrified of the Michelin Man, Pollard is a fan of some haunting, enigmatic video clips being uploaded on the Internet by an unknown source. The network of followers of these clips is very cool and underground, kind of like a cabal in which conspirators acknowledge each other with nods and knowing looks.
While on assignment in London to evaluate the redesign of a major corporate logo, Pollard is given the task of tracking down the creator of this "footage" (that's what they call it), because the big major corporate ad people absolutely must know where it's coming from and are willing to fly her all over the place and pay big cash to find out.
Pollard's travels take her from London to Tokyo to Moscow, then into the aftermath of a Soviet eco-disaster, all the while pursued by bad guys.
The story is clever and full of suspense in a very Marshall McLuhan-meets-Tom Clancy kind of way.
Alas, the big blowout climax and moment of revelation is a bit of a letdown, and it feels like we've experienced a big buildup for a disappointing show, but that's kind of what the media age is all about.
Maybe it's even Gibson's point.
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