William Gibson’s best-known novel, Neuromancer, was published in 1984. I read it back then and thought it was excellent. I don’t remember much about it, but if I close my eyes, what comes to me is an image of cyberspace as a set of large, colored boxes, some labeled with their corporate names (like IBM or Exxon). The young man or woman at the center of the story travels through this bizarre virtual reality, but I can’t remember why. It’s fair to say the novel was ahead of its time.
I’ve been tempted to read something else by Gibson through the years but never bothered. I guess I doubted he had more to say. Then recently I saw a positive reference to his 2014 novel, The Peripheral. I wanted some lighter reading so made a trip to the library (which now asks us to visit for no more than 20 minutes and doesn’t allow access to the restrooms). On the shelf next to The Peripheral was Gibson’s 2003 novel, Pattern Recognition. A blurb on the back cover said it was his best novel since Neuromancer.
Pattern Recognition wasn’t as futuristic as I expected. It’s a story about a woman, Cayce Pollard, who is extremely sensitive to contemporary culture (circa 2003). She makes her living by telling her corporate clients what’s “cool”. Is the new logo they’re considering acceptable or not? She’s paid to give a “yes” or “no” answer, no explanation required. It’s not her usual kind of job, but she accepts an assignment to investigate a series of mysterious little videos that have been popping up on the internet (the people who obsess about it online call these videos “The Footage”). Complications ensue.
What also ensues are many, many references to the clothes Cayce wears and the restaurants she visits. One minute she’s in London, then she’s flying to Tokyo, then it’s Paris, and then New York, followed by Moscow, and back to London. Cayce uses her client’s VISA card to really get around. I got tired of reading about her jet lag and the cool neighborhoods she visits. (Did William Gibson visit the major cities of the world as his career developed? Is that how he acquired so many details about city life here and there?)
Pattern Recognition might have been a better book if the author gave more attention to The Footage, which is rarely described, and less to Cayce’s favorite jacket and the decor in her hotel rooms. Maybe The Peripheral will be better than Pattern Recognition. I hope it’s Gibson’s best since Neuromancer.