Pattern Recognition

Every once in a while, a book comes along that really matters. You read it and it gets down into your soul, affects your core beliefs and really, truly changes you. I just finished reading Pattern Recognition by William Gibson, and let me tell you… this is not that book.

Normally, I don’t post spoilers, but I can’t talk about this book without them. So, if you want to read more and don’t mind a little (or a lot) of spoiling, read on.

The book starts off very… dry. Chapter after chapter, I seemed to care less and less about the main character, Cayce Pollard. She’s a “coolhunter”, and her one redeeming quality is that she doesn’t like that word. Her job, her life, is to recognize styles and logos and things that “work”. Stuff that is going to catch on with the public. Essentially, she’s good at recognizing patterns before they become patterns. Frankly, she embodies just about everything I find distasteful in the advertising industry, and so it comes as no surprise that I found myself not really caring if the next chapter found her under a bus. I very nearly put the book down. But I didn’t… and I’m still not sure I did the right thing.

Moving on, Cayce is in London to look at a new logo design for a company to tell them if its worth it (the first one isn’t), but her job isn’t really the focus of the book. Cayce has a passion, on obsession, with “the footage”. There are these video clips people keep finding on the internet, they are beautifully shot, well crafted, and each is only a few second long. They also don’t seem to form any long narrative. As people will do, an entire community has launched around discussing “the footage” and potificating on where it was filmed, how it was filmed, why it was filmed, and who filmed it. At first, these footageheads (the people who study the footage) seem like just some throw away facet of Cayce’s character, and that the real story is about a break-in at the flat she’s staying in and something about corporate politics. But then Hubertis Bigend comes fully into the story to send Cayce in search of the maker of the footage.

See, Mr. Bigend looks at the footage as the most successful viral marketing campaign, he wants to study it and put a price on it and sell it. So off Cayce goes in search of the maker of the footage. Its at this point the story really becomes interesting (finally). There is some intrigue about industrial spies, and the fact that her dad (who went missing in New York on 9/11) used to work for the CIA, people try to kill her, everything starts moving at a break-neck pace and this tale of spies and Russians and weirdness boils to the surface.

Then, just when the book is getting good, right after Cayce has found the maker of the footage, the nieces of a bigwig in the Russian mafia community, daughters to a man who was assassinated, just when you are thinking that the girls are making the footage but maybe their uncle is smuggling out secrets or something hidden in the encrypted parts of the footage, you learn that nothing is happening. All the intrigue, all the spies and break-ins and whatnot is just an uncle trying to protect his nieces from being possible targets of his enemies, but also wanting his nieces to be happy. The footage is released anonymously so it can’t be traced back to the girls, but it is released because one of the nieces makes it (after being hurt, brain damaged, during the attack on their father, one girl only comes alive when editing film, so they give her security camera footage that she cuts, re-cuts, photoshops, cuts again) and the other likes to watch people enjoy the work.

In the end, nothing really happens. There was some crazy excitement, and one woman vanished (she triple crossed the mafia or something), but everyone goes back to their lives (mostly, Cayce does manage to hook up with a guy she’d only previously talked to over the internet and phone).

I really don’t recommend this book unless you are just some phenominal fan of William Gibson and just have to read everything he writes.

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