Loads of Learned Lumber

Monday, January 17, 2011

William Gibson, _Pattern Recognition_

THIS IS THE first novel by Gibson I have read. It represents a departure of sorts, I gather, in that it is set in the present rather than the future. It nonetheless gives us a very futuristic take on its present (circa 2002, apparently) -- amazing gadgets, instant global communication, high mobility, and so on.

The main character, Cayce Pollard, is a "cool hunter," making a living thanks to her uncanny ability to know what will be cool next, information for which corporations pay well. Ironically, she is "allergic" to brands -- once she calls attention of commerce to a cool thing, it will be commodified and branded, thus rendering it loathsome to her.

Her great passion of the moment is "the footage," excerpts of some film project, periodically posted on the internet and subject to intense scrutiny by a devoted fan base. The makers and exact nature of the film are unknown, but a big corporation wants to find its provenance -- with a view to making a handsome profit, presumably. Who better to hire to track down the mysterious auteur(s) than Cayce? She takes the job -- even though she thus risks of commercial exploitation of something from which she gets great joy and meaning.

So, the novel turns into Cayce's search for the makers of the footage. After a lot of globe-trotting, clue-finding, and noir-ish hijinks, she finds them.

I wanted to know how being "found" was going to affect the makers of the footage and the project itself. Would it change, be turned into a mere product among products, no longer satisfy the imagination? The novel seems uninterested in those questions, though. Mission accomplished, Cayce finds a soul-mate, gets a bundle of cash (some of which she distributes to the deserving), and discovers that her brand-phobia is clearing up. Presumably, all live happily ever after.

On the strength of this novel, hard for me to tell why Gibson is sometimes hailed as the heir to Phillip K.Dick. Perhaps I'm missing something.

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