Pattern Recognition William Gibson (Putnam)
Pattern Recognition

William Gibson

(Putnam)

P attern Recognition is William Gibson's first book to be set in the present, rather than in an imagined future or an alternative past. It is, simply, a novel that evokes in minute detail what it feels like to live in our global culture of simulacra, corporate logos and brand names, and ubiquitous electronic networks.

The novel's protagonist, Cayce Pollard, is a "coolhunter": somebody who is so sensitive to fashion trends she knows intuitively what's going to be big before anyone else. Such a degree of sensitivity is actually an affliction; Cayce is literally allergic to logos and brand names, so that a glimpse of the Michelin Man or Tommy Hilfiger is enough to bring on a panic attack. But Cayce makes a good living from her talent, selling her insights to corporations so that the new discoveries can be "productized, turned into units, marketed." As the novel begins, she's working for a too-hip-for-words advertising agency, "globally distributed, more post-geographic than multinational."

The plot of Pattern Recognition centers on the search for what everyone calls "the footage": a film that has only been released on the Internet. The footage calls forth such powerful emotions among the people who have seen it that they form an online subculture around it. Cayce feels most fully alive when she watches these cinematic fragments, over and over; her deepest connections are with people she knows, not in the flesh, but from an online bulletin board devoted to the footage. Cayce also connects the footage to the greatest grief in her life: the disappearance of her father, last seen in lower Manhattan, for unknown reasons, on the morning of September 11, 2001.

Cayce's search for the unknown makers of the footage becomes a quest, if not quite for redemption, then at least for a kind of validation (or some solid evidence) in the matter of her father's presumed death, and for some proof that the footage is more than just what her advertising-agency employer thinks it is, "the most brilliant marketing ploy of this very young century." In Pattern Recognition, William Gibson interrogates the hopes and fears of a world in which "to Google" is a commonplace verb. STEVEN SHAVIRO