Friday, 15 January 2016

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson


This was a really fun book to read that I enjoyed all the way through. Unfortunately, the end did not live up the rest, leaving me sitting there wondering just a little bit what the point had been. It wasn't bad enough to spoil the enjoyment I got out of reading this book, but it was certainly a little jarring.

On the other hand, I didn't feel distant from Gibson's prose, which is a problem I had in particular with Neuromancer. It wasn't unreadable, it just felt like it kept the reader at a deliberate arm's-length. There are no such problems here - it's accessible, it's breezy, it's fairly light.

Cayce (pronounced, in this case, "Case") is a trademark guru. That is to say, she's physically allergic to trademarks that permeate the landscape, but she can use the side effects from that to tell whether or not designs for new logos are going to to work on a mass scale. So she freelances for firms around the world, coming in just to tell them yes or no when she's shown the work of a graphic design firm.

However, she's also an aficionado of these strange little bits of film that have been popping up on the internet at intervals, fascinating a small segment of the population. They're obviously masterfully done, but no one knows really how they connect, or even whether they're part of a completed work being distributed out of order, or if they're being put out as they're finished. There's a community that has formed around theorizing about them.

She gets hired by a Steve Jobs-like figure to find out where the bits of film are coming from, and almost immediately discovers that the apartment where she's been staying has been broken in to. And that her phone might be tapped. She starts on an series of trips around the world to try to uncover what's going on with the bits of film.

This is all a great deal of fun, and her search has resonance with the backstory that her father disappeared in New York on 9/11, presumed dead. The character is engaging, and her descent into justified paranoia interesting. However, there's a however. At the end she finds out who has been making these bits of video, and that answer isn't unsatisfying, what's unsatisfying is that that's then the end. 

There's absolutely no "this is where the films are coming from, and therefore...." There's no third act. It just doesn't amount to much - she discovers the truth and it feels curiously weightless. But more than that, it feels like that discovery should mean something, and it just...doesn't. 

If this is the start of a trilogy, that's vaguely excusable, although there should seriously still be some kind of hint in this book of where it's going to go and what it's going to mean. I don't need it all laid out. I just need it not to suddenly stop, wash its hands, and say "well, that's done!"

The process of reading this book was very enjoyable. The denouement frustrating. How do you rate a book that does that to you? Do I put more emphasis on the process or the outcome? A great book would give you both. This is merely a good book, but it is frustrating that it isn't just that one step better, that Gibson didn't look at that answer and then write what that means or why it matters. Perhaps he does in later books. That doesn't make this one satisfying. 

But it was fun to read. 

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