EPS Review #81 - Pattern Recognition

by William Gibson, Penguin 2003

I bought this book at Heathrow. I feel that Gibson's works got worse and worse after Neuromancer, to such a degree that I have been wanting to go back and reread Neuromancer to see what I liked about it. Obviously the early depiction of the web/matrix was great, and the Japanese angle seemed new and exciting, as did lovable Wintermute the AI. Snow Crash seemed to fill the void left by Gibson's promise, though Stephenson has recently wandered off into prolix-land. I bought Pattern Recognition because it had an approving blurb by Gaiman, and because I had many empty airplane hours to fill.

I enjoyed the read. Earlier, I trashed The Da Vinci Code for its cheesy use of brand names. "Pattern Recognition" has brands galore, which is partly the point, since Cayce the protagonist makes her business and her phobias about them. And the macguffin is "the footage", some video clips that seem human beyond the slavery of fashion. It was startling to see casual use of Google as a verb, and mention of those Molton Brown lotions you see in first class air cabins, just because they are familiar yet not something I expected to see in a novel. I like it that Cayce calls Roppongi "mean", but how much of that is my self-satisfaction at being cool enough to know what she is talking about? I suppose all these references will not age well. Also, the ending is a bit facile.

I liked the writing ("He's roseate with some dire new energy"), and read it all in a gulp. But maybe being on vacation in Oregon helped! Speaking of fashion slavery, a surprising number of Americans are terribly dressed (not counting NYers as Americans).

Here's the flight jacket that is apparently the last word in cool (you have to be cool enough to know what otaku means). Oh, and apparently Tommy Hilfiger is as uncool as you can get, sorry.

I was checking the spelling of "maguffin", and what do you know, one wiki page actually defines Gibson's works in terms of it.

Which led me to Gibson's blog, which he has stopped updating.

Mike wrote: Ditto!

Luke wrote: I read Neuromancer and liked it, interesting ideas and good action, but I never followed up on reading more books by Gibson. Maybe that was a wise choice.

Kevin wrote: Tommy Hilfiger's kid goes to my daughter's school. I must say Mr. Hilfiger is one of the worst dressed people I have ever met. He's terribly old and has done a lot of botox, too. But he does show up for all his kid's events--give him credit for that, at least. PS Neuromancer was the only Gibson I ever read--just lucky I guess

Scott wrote: This book made me want to get one of the flight jackets, but since it was in a book, it suddenly became less cool. I might still get one, now that the book's a year old. And yes, outside of NYC/SF/LA, Americans dress very very badly.

Ryan wrote: So I reread neuromancer over the weekend... I first read it about 15 years ago, but I haven't read it in 10 years probably. Man that book was influential, espcially on a personal level! Until I re-read it, I didn't realize how much during my teenage years I really really longed to be a "console cowboy".

I replied: Did it hold up to a reread?

Ryan wrote: Yeah, I enjoyed it immensely on a re-read... but that's probably at least in part becuase I understand a lot more of the background and buzzwords... for example, I now know what yakitori is, where the topaki palace is, or what mycotoxin is. When I first read the novel at 13, I am sure I did not. The thing that struck me is how much it informed my worldview:

  1. information is inherently and extremely valuable
  2. mega global corporations are extremely organized, efficient, and dedicated to their own ends (hahahaha, well I guess I've learned it actually is fiction)
  3. international stuff is cool, national boundaries are less meaningful in the late stages of global capitalism... in the space station he looks out and sees a collection of designer stores from all over the world.

Also, on a re-read, I realized how malicious wintermute is... the first time I read it I was cheering for the computer because it was a computer. I guess it's kind of like how I cheered for HAL the first time I watched 2001. On second look, wintermute seems like an evil puppet master manipulating all the characters to his morally ambiguous ends.