Monday, February 16, 2009

Book Review...Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition.William Gibson.2003.Berkley Publishing.367pages.

About six months ago I stumbled across the BBC Comedy 7 website.It plays a selection of old and new comedy series such as The Goons as well as dramas and serialised book readings.Well worth listening to.Theres usually at least one show or reading that catches my attention during the week.
In recent months Ive listened to a variety of readings including "I Am Legend" by Richard Matheson and "Jaws" by Peter Benchley.Both books have been adapted and made into movies.Its interesting to listen and compare how the books stand up against the movies.Certainly the latest"I Am Legend" movie with Will Smith is a pale imitation of the novel.
Although most of the book readings are somewhat abridged they give you a good idea of what to expect should you want to go out and purchase the original hard copy.
My interest was piqued late last month and I purchased a copy of "Pattern Recognition" by William Gibson after hearing the abridged version.
Im not a big fan of science fiction and didnt like the earlier reading of his novel "Burning Chrome".I just couldnt connect to the computer jargon or what seemed to me the unsympathetic protaganists.I also found myself pushing the pause button while I tried to make sense of his overly long "Woolfish" sentences.

While I also had similar problems in listening to "Pattern Recogntion" in terms of its grammar,I found it easier to follow.So I persevered.This may have been due to the fact that the story is set in the present rather than the future so the book is more thriller rather science fiction.Or due to the fact that the radio adaptation was read by a woman.Or that the main character is a woman.

As to the book itself "Pattern Recognition" deals with a number of themes including history,globalisation,commerce versus art and its creation.It also examines our natural wont to clarify and organise events hence the title of the novel.
I found the idea of what history is and what it means intriguing.I was also reading "The Black Swan..The Impact of the Highly Improbable"(Penguin Books 2007) by Nassim Taleb at the same time and trying to square off and understand his ideas on random events and history.
Taleb writes"History and societies do not crawl.They make jumps.They go from fracture to fracture,with a few vibrations in between.Yet we(and historians)like to believe in the predictable,small incremental progression."(pg 11).

The main storyline of the novel revolves around the efforts of the principal character,Cayce Pollard,to find the origin of video clips or"footage"that have taken the Internet by storm.As a back story she is also trying to piece together the events that led to her fathers disappearance on September 11,2001.Her job as a "coolhunter" who is employed to spot the latest trends and fashions lets the author introduce ideas on such things as brand awareness,labels and globalisation while Cayce tracks down the "footage" in London,Tokyo and finally Russia.
While I found at times the over elaborate description of products and the constant name dropping of brands annoying you cant deny the effort that is displayed.Its not enough to describe a lamp as a lamp.Its an Italian floor lamp with a switch that makes a different click.(pg 9).
Then again he can sum up why a relationship doesnt work in a few words.
"Their boy-girl Lego doesnt click,he would say".(p2).The description reminded me of the Lego people on the cover of Douglas Couplands JPod book and I thought it would be a phrase he'd probably use.Gibson credits Coupland with his insights into Tokyo at the back of the book.Incidentally both authors live in Vancouver,Canada.

Apart from his descriptive ability I also liked the attention and time spent on minor characters.They seemed fleshed out and rounded.
I swear Ive met people like Taki,the extreme example of Japanese geek culture.."He blinks earnestly,through dandruffed-dusted lenses..."pg153.
While I felt the conclusion of the story was a little empty and drawn out considering what proceeded it,the effort getting to that point was more than worth it.I'll certainly read more of his work if he continues to write in a similar style and about the near present.Recommended.

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