CBRIII Maneuver #8 – Pattern Recognition

Target: William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition

Profile: Contemporary Fiction, Suspenseful Thriller

Summary: From the inside cover, “Cayce Pollard is a new kind of prophet – a world-renowned “coolhunter” who predicts the hottest trends.  While in London to evaluate the redesign of a famous corporate logo, she’s offered a different assignment: find the creator of the obscure, enigmatic video clips being uploaded on the Internet – footage that is generating massive underground buzz worldwide.”

After Action Report:

It’s hard to nail down just what I like about Pattern Recognition.  I didn’t pick up a Gibson novel expecting a Robert Ludlum-esque espionage thriller, but that’s about as close a comparison as I can come up with.  Not that you could compare this book with the Bourne series.  Gibson is a masterful writer and Pattern Recognition is a griping, smart and critical novel that doesn’t get bogged down in the conspiracy that drives its plot.

Cayce (pronounced “case”) is not a very sympathetic character.  She is the ultimate hipster, a coolhunter who’s literal allergy to corporate branding has caused her to excise every scrap of fashion from her life.  She has a psychosomatic reaction to logos that can cause her to break out in rashes, experience nausea or even go into shock if exposed to certain mass market images.  She describes this as the side-effect of a life spent on the cutting edge of marketing and advertising.  You can’t help but feel that she brought it all on herself.

She also spends most of the book in a sort of trance-like state of jetlag that seems to make her very passive in the events of her life.  Even as the protagonist, you really feel like she’s just along for the ride.  Part of that is the extreme influence of her ‘boss,’ Hubertus Bigend on the events of the book.  Bigend is a major advertising mogul who really seems to be the motivating force in Cayce’s search, even if she explicitly despises him for pushing the issue.  Bigend is larger than life and his impact, both on the buildup to the climax of the story, and the world after the book’s events come to a close.

So, if it isn’t the characters, it must be the story that I find so appealing.  Cayce finds herself in a middle of a mystery:  CG footage, uploaded to the net in 135 small segments, defying conventional analysis, but capturing the attention and imagination of millions.  The production values are too high for it to be the work of less than a studio, but no one knows anything about where the clips are being made, or even what they’re supposed to be.

It’s a strong hook.  The mystery is spooled out through Cayce’s interactions with a fan bulletin board, and her investigations on behalf of Bigend’s company, Blue Ant.  But the conclusion is extremely dissatisfying.  It isn’t the nature of the climax so much that fails to live up to the story, as it is the story’s denouement.  After all the curtains are drawn back, nobody seems to do anything with that information.

So I guess the big draw here is the subject matter.  Between all the espionage and adventure is a really critical look at popular culture and advertising.  It’s definitely one of the more explicit looks at marketing that you’ll get outside of a text book.  Viral campaigns, coolhunting, and the constant search for design innovation are all touched upon.  However, some of these ideas aren’t surprising because of how dated the book is, despite only being published eight years ago.  Advertising moves faster than the speed of light, and the intervening years have already dramatically reshaped the way we absorb information.

It’s hard to call Pattern Recognition a good novel.  The writing is absolutely spectacular, but the product is somewhat poorly designed.  It’s an example of really above par execution of a less than stellar idea.  It’s still a great read, and there’s a lot of potential for a screenplay in here, if Cayce could just be shaped to be a little more sympathetic.

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Posted on February 18, 2011, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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