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|It must be hell to have to live up to the legacy that is
Neuromancer. Fortunately, William Gibson has made an important leap to
move him out of the shadow of his masterwork.
Pattern Recognition has nothing to do with cyberspace. While Gibson gamely pursued the deeper meanings he'd uncovered in Neuromancer, he never quite captured my interest with follow-on books such as Virtual Light or All Tomorrow's Parties.
What makes Pattern Recognition important is that the author has tackled another big question: how does something become popular? Just as in Neuromancer, where he examined television's influence, and in The Difference Engine (co-authored with Bruce Sterling), where he extrapolated the impact of calculating devices and a dossier society on Victorian England, Gibson unveils important aspects of modern culture throughout his narrative.
The story in Pattern Recognition revolves around Cayce Pollard, a freelance "coolhunter". Her job is to observe the masses to identify the next big trend; an aspect of that work is to view prospective corporate logos to determine whether they will be successful or not. A simple "no" from her after seeing a logo for a few seconds is enough to send entire design teams back to the drawing board.
(It is interesting to note that her name is pronounced the same as "Case", who was the protagonist in Neuromancer. It's a slick callback that acknowledges what has come before, while at the same time evoking the spirit of Edgar Cayce, the Virginia Beach seer.)
Outside of work, she follows "the footage". Someone has been releasing compelling yet out of sequence installments of a movie onto the Internet, and the film and its creator have become an obsession of many. A bigwig at one of her regular employers, advertising giant Blue Ant, asks her to find the creator of the footage and to determine what insights that person has into the minds of so many individuals across numerous cultures.
The search is just that: a search. Much time is spent doing the legwork prime-time detective series only mention in passing, but the narrative is no less compelling for it. The studied neutrality of the focus group facilitator abounds in the characters of Pattern Recognition, but that's part and parcel of the advertising world Cayce inhabits. While the characters are not compelling as personalities, their wants and desires are quite compelling. What's more, their agreement as to the importance of the insights of the footage's creator, someone who can evoke such a reaction from the masses, reinforces the importance of the search and makes the reader care about the result.
The result of the search? I can say the truth is uncovered quite satisfactorily, but it may not be the answer you were looking for.
Curtis D. Frye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the editor and chief reviewer of Technology and Society Book Reviews. He is also the author of three online courses and ten books , including Privacy-Enhanced Business from Quorum Books.