Willam Gibson - Pattern Recognition

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002
Original review by Elaine Frei:

I spent a good portion of the time I was reading Pattern Recognition wondering when it was going to turn into a science fiction novel, since that is what it is supposed to be. It’s author is William Gibson, the father of “cyberpunk”, after all. And I found the thing in the science fiction section of my local library. At one point I even looked back at the spine of the book for the library’s tag - and sure enough, it was marked “FS”. It hadn’t been mis-shelved. I was a little confused, I guess, because “Pattern Recognition” doesn’t have any of the usual trappings of traditional science fiction. There are no rocket ships. No alien civilizations, be they friendly or invading. It is set in the present, in the wake of September 11, in fact, with no time travelers or historical anachronisms. The interesting thing is, even without any overt hint to mark it as science fiction, this novel - which reads very much like a post-cold war mystery thriller at times - started to nevertheless feel like science fiction about halfway through.

The story told by the novel concerns Cayce (pronounced “Case”, she insists) Pollard, a woman whose freelance career in advertising is driven primarily by the fact that she has a natural, visceral - and sometimes allergic, bordering on phobic - reactions to product logos. She is very good at what she does. One of the executives she has done business with asks Cayce to track down the maker of snippets of an enigmatic film that have been appearing anonymously on the Internet. Not sure she trusts this man she nevertheless enters into the hunt, mostly because she has become one of the many people who are fascinated almost to the point of obsession by these mysterious bits of cinema. Cayce is already involved in another search, for the answer to what happened to her father, a retired cold warrior who was last seen in the vicinity of the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001. Between these two quests, Cayce ends up running down clues in places like Tokyo and Moscow. It would be unfair to say whether or not she finds what she is looking for, in either case. You’ll just have to read Pattern Recognition to find out.

I was a little leery of reading Pattern Recognition. I had never read William Gibson before, having been a little put off by the “cyberpunk” label. In all honestly, I only picked the book up off the library shelf because I remembered reading a review of it when it was published and thinking that it sounded like an interesting story. Then, when I began to read, I discovered that the story is told in the present tense. This literary device usually irritates me enough that I rarely finish books which are written that way. So, my hopes for finishing the book were not high. By the time I was just a few pages in, however, I realized that I was already hooked by the story. It is tightly written, well told, and very involving. And, I have come to the conclusion, it is very much science fiction - although I couldn’t for a moment explain why. It just has that feeling about it.
I also very much enjoyed Pattern Recognition. As a dedicated fan of Gibson, I, like you, was expecting something a lot more... cyberpunk, but it was a ripping yarn, full of neat ideas and concepts. In particular, the F:F:F movie clip thing. Note that when the book was written in 2002, there was no YouTube, otherwise that's where the clips would have been.

Now, I've read the rules and I know I'm not supposed to start posting web addresses, especially as a newbie, but I set up a "sense of place" website - a gallery of photos of many of the locations in Pattern Recognition, to which people all over the world contributed - and if anyone would like the URL, just PM me.
Hi I,

Either that's a brilliant review of the book or we both have a very similar of the work. I enjoyed 'Pattern Recognition' but would struggle to argue it's SF. I read 'Neuromancer' recently as a part of my attempt to broaden my horizons and stop re-reading stuff from the '70's. I think 'Pattern Recognition' is a better novel, as 'Neuromancer' is a bit 'Bester-esque' but doesn't compare with Bester for prose style, and also I think the 'electronic world' thing was done better in 'Coils' by Niven and Saberhagen.

Based on the little I've read, Gibson is a bit like Michael Crichton, writing in and out of the Science Fiction genre, but sometimes producing better work outside (my favourite Crichton novel is 'Disclosure' but least favourite is the very dated 'Terminal Man')
I've read the three Neuromancer Books as well as Burning Chrome and Virtual Light. I liked all these very much, which came as a surprise since I was expecting to have trouble with the 'science'. Perhaps the appeal of his books lie in them not being as science fiction is traditionally understood to be. But I agree that I always felt that the books were indeed science fiction.

I have Pattern Recognition in the to-read pile so thank you for this review. I think I'll be moving it up now.
I think I've read all of Gibsons work and can well understand why some people might be put off by the 'father of cyberpunk' tag sometimes bestowed upon him. However, he himself had very little understand of computing - at the outset at least - and as such was more concerned with writing stories which utilised extrapolated/imagined technology, and thus by default had to be set in the future.

As his work has progressed and technology realises some of his requirements 'ahead of time', the projected timescale has been reigned in such that storytelling and science now dovetail. Pattern Recognition is an SF novel, its just that we're living the fiction, right now.
Hmmm as a reader of SF this hardly sounds interesting! Maybe if you read it as a contemporary novel(or whatever label one uses for non-SF books these days) one might enjoy it. But either way it doesn't sound my kind of thing. I'm not one for techno thrillers or cyber punk etc,and have never read any Gibson. Altho thats mainly because one never comes across his books in the library!