Thursday, June 05, 2003

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

Endorphins are good. Pattern Recognition causes a rush of endorphins at least every ten pages, so I conclude that it is good, too.

Gibson is most famous for his trilogy of cyberspace novels (Neuromancer, Count Zero, and Mona Lisa Overdrive), and having invented the word "cyberspace". I read them, they're good, but they were good in the science fiction sense that the concepts were a blast, but I wouldn't have read the novels for their grace of style.

No so Pattern Recognition. The language pulled me along as much as the plot did. I am not aware of another author whose ability to write has grown so dramatically in the course of their career. I now look forward to whatever Gibson decides to write about next, which is perhaps the Holy Grail of fiction writing: to convert an occasional reader to a constant reader. Hats off to Gibson.

The story is about a woman named Cayce who has a gift and a curse where she reacts to advertising and branding logos like a kid reacts to candy. One will bring her ecstasy, where the next one might have her out ralphing in the nearest alley. Naturally, she becomes everyone's favorite lab rat for testing out new branding campaigns. (What a job that would be, huh?)

Her sensitivity leads her to become one of the main groupies for an anonymously authored series of film segments, know among aficionados as "the footage", that are distributed on the web, and discussed ad nauseum on message boards, kinda like Star Wars. The question is: who makes these things and what do they mean?

The style of the narrative is sort of an omniscient point of view Catcher in the Rye, which Gibson pulls off splendidly. Thematically, the novel is heavily influence by the you-love-it or you-hate-it opus, Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. A central plot point of Infinite Jest is "The Entertainment", which is a film so gripping and enrapturing, those who fall victim to seeing it forever become totally addicted vegetables. "The Footage" in Pattern Recognition is not so destructive, but it does have the same hypnotic, euphoric grip on its audience.

It's a short, intense read at 357 pages, and the best thing I've read this year thus far. The new Harry Potter is due the 21st, though, so I'll just go ahead and put this as at least number two on my best of list for 2003.

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