so pattern recognition is the second gibson book i’ve tried — this one largely because it was $1 at brookline booksmith. the first gibson i tried was spook country, which i believe is still his latest. i couldn’t finish that one. i made a game effort but after 150 pages when i still didn’t care about any of the characters and i had no idea what the hell was going on, it just seemed like i could find something that would be a better use of my time.
pattern recognition is the book immediately preceding spook country although i don’t think there’s any connection between the two of them and gibson’s personal website provides a highly complimentary blurb from neil gaiman about recognition. i’ve bought books on the strength of a gaiman blurb alone — china mieville and martin millar most recently — and mostly this has worked out really well. this? not so much.
i realise that it’s a little unfair to critique it in-depth since i’m only about 60-75 pages into it so let that be my disclaimer. and i do have every intention of finishing the silly thing if only because i paid for it! but i finally had to pull a pencil out of my bag yesterday while reading and start making long and faintly hysterical marginal notes or risk having to buttonhole complete strangers and harangue them at length about how ridiculous what i was reading was and i thought this, on boylston street at 4.30 on a friday afternoon, might be a poor plan even while sitting outside the mhs where you get a fairly reasonable class of passerby.
anyway, the general thrust of recognition so far seems to be centered around the p.o.v character, cayce, who is some kind of brand-name psychic in a faintly futuristic post-9/11 world; i’d say it was meant to be set around now-ish? but gibson isn’t clear; the only thing that seems terribly dissimilar from the modern-day is the computing technology which seems to function a little oddly. either that, or gibson is a major mac-addict and he’s just describing run-of-the-mill mac tech which i don’t recognize. anyway, cayce has uniquely strong reactions to fashion trends; when not engaged in professional “cool-trend-sniffing-out” activities, she is an obsessive follower of something called “the footage” online. “the footage” is made up of over a hundred little clips of film footage posted online anonymously; an entire forum has been built up around these clips, devoted to discussing and deconstructing — or trying to reconstruct or guess — what’s going on with these film clips.
now, really, my biggest problems with the pages i’ve read so far are two.
cayce reads more like a randomly generated rpg character than a real person. gibson writes her very formally — and then veers into vernacular in the same paragraph. while acknowledging that real people do this all the time, it reads…awkwardly. cayce doesn’t seem like the kind of woman who would behave like that and since her characterization is pretty thin anyway, this sort of unevenness really does the narrative no favors. and gibson’s writing style is a little — jarring anyway. the first time i came across a phrase describing a character looking like: “…Tom Cruise on a diet of virgins’ blood and truffled chocolates…,” i thought it was kind of fun. and then when every single paragraph started to be loaded with pseudo-meaningful analogies of a similar kind….well, it got old quickly.
the second problem is with this “footage” stuff. we’re supposed to believe that over 100 clips of varying duration have been posted online over the course of the last however long time. okay, fine. and this forum to which cayce belongs is entirely made up of fans of “the footage,” absolutely devoted to talking, arguing, discussing, debating the stuff ad nauseam. (sound familiar?) all right. now, cayce comments at one point: “…If the footage consists of clips from a finished film, of whatever length, every footagehead, for whatever reason, is being toyed with, unmercifully teased, in one of the most annoying fashions ever devised.”
uh. no — that means you have the cross-referencing skills of a squirrel.
i mean, how long does it take when a leaked clip of something hits the web for it to have been thoroughly dissected, placed in the running time of the film (whether released or not), for everyone in it to have been identified down to the tea lady, nine places where you can download the full film (released or not) linked….? about — what, thirty minutes? less if it’s a known piece — and you have a whole forum of people backing you up on this “footage” — and you can’t figure it out? the — what now?
when she follows this up by commenting that “…it might be being generated via some sort of CGI, actors, sets and all…” and i’m presumably expected to take this seriously when the previous clip of “footage” that we have watched with cayce involves two actors kissing — no. i’m sorry, but cgi doesn’t look that good yet and, since, the pub date on recognition is 2003 and i’m not given any particular frame of temporal reference other than post-9/11 (because everything is freaking referenced back to it!) and everything seems pretty familiar, then no, i don’t buy that the cgi looks that good. maybe if the clip is really short and probably doesn’t involve people but a close-up of two people kissing? no. you’d be able to tell.
like i said, i’m going to keep going and i’m going to finish the book — probably not this weekend — but so far, i’m not really impressed. as far as cyberpunk goes, neal stephenson still gets my vote. a sense of humor and jack the vagabond king win out every time.