My life in outer space

Pattern Recognition – William Gibson (2003)

Pattern Recognition (Blue Ant, #1)

‘We have no future because our present is too volatile. We have only risk management. the spinning of the given moment’s scenarios. Pattern recognition…

Cayce Pollard is a new kind of prophet – a world-renowned ‘coolhunter’ who predicts the hottest trends. While in London to evaluate the redesign of a famous corporate logo, she’s offered a different assignment: find the creator of the obscure, enigmatic video clips being uploaded to the Internet – footage that is generating massive underground buzz worldwide.

Still haunted by the memory of her missing father – a Cold War security guru who disappeared in downtown Manhattan on the morning of Septemeber 11, 2001 – Cayce is soon traveling through parallel universes of marketing, globalization, and terror, heading always for the still point where the three converge. From London to Tokyo to Moscow, she follows the implications of a secret as disturbing – and compelling – as the twenty-first century promises to be….’

Blurb from the Berkley 2005 paperback edition

Cayce Pollard is media ‘cool-hunter’, a freelancer employed to spot trends before they become fashionable, and to consult on trade-marks and brand logos. Cayce owes her odd talent for spotting the next big fashion to her allergy/phobia of Labels. Her clothing is generic, any corporate labelling assiduously removed.
Whilst on an assignment in London to give her opinion on a re-branding of a trainers corporate logo, she is offered a further assignment; to track down the creator of the mysterious segments of film uploaded to the internet. These are short clips, enigmatic, yet strangely appealing, and which have drawn the attention of many people around the world, including Cayce herself.
This is probably one of the first novels to feature 9-11 directly, since another mystery in Cayce’s life is the disappearance of her father, an ex CIA agent, in New York on the day of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Cayce herself witnessed the attack and aftermath, an event which Gibson handles sensitively and respectfully without proselytising.
It is interesting to view the world through Gibson’s eyes. His description of Notting Hill and streets which I know well makes them at once recognisable, familiar and yet alien. Portobello Market, though accurately described, becomes in Gibson’s world a somewhat sinister area where vendors sell antique clockwork calculators shaped like hand grenades (Curtas, they are called, and can in fact be found on e-bay) and early surgical implements of dubious purpose.
It’s a novel constructed around hidden agendas, since most of the characters seem to have at least one, which makes for a fast-paced adventure in which, it seems, one cannot completely trust anyone.
Cayce’s search takes her to Tokyo and finally to Russia, and strange society of post-communism and the beginnings of prosperity for some. One of the characters mentions that, ironically, ‘Lenin lied to us about Communism, but told the truth about Capitalism’.
Gibson has always had an eye for detail and a way with metaphor. He also, in this novel at least, displays a mordant wit, as in a discussion amongst dealers where one had put in a bid on an internet auction for ‘Stephen King’s Wang’ which turned out to be one of the author’s old computers.
Overall, it’s a clever, glittering view of a world controlled by media barons whose business circles merge and blend with those of terrorists and organised crime bosses. Perhaps there was never a time when this was not true.
This is a long way from ‘Neuromancer’. This is a matured, confident Gibson whose haunting prose and imagery have evolved spectacularly in the intervening years. Now, he portrays what is almost our present day with a style and panache which reinvents our scenery, our working landscapes and our view of the world we live in.


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