Pattern Recognition, William Gibson

Pattern Recognition, book by William GibsonGibson’s first novel, Neuromancer, is a cyberpunk classic and was published in 1984 – an apt year for such a visionary novel. Pattern Recognition is written in much the same style, using ‘hip’ language and featuring computer technology – but it isn’t a science fiction book.

The book is engagingly written in Gibson’s cyberpunk style. It is written in the present tense and from a close 3rd person point of view. Set in 2002, a year after the 9/11 disaster in New York, Pattern Recognition follows its heroine on her quest to discover the Maker of a series of compelling and intriguing video clips posted online. Interestingly, the heroine is called Cayce – a nodding reference to the main character in Neuromancer, who was called Case. The book explores the theme of images as used in branding and marketing. The story spans several different locations and makes reference to another theme – increasing globalisation.

Although I enjoyed reading the book, and was gripped by the main character and the various concepts within the narrative, I found the ending somewhat of an anti-climax.

What I liked about the book:

  • I liked the choice of present tense, which gave the narrative a sense of immediacy and a fast pace.
  • The use of punchy, non-grammatical sentences added to the breathlessness of the prose.
  • I enjoyed the themes – branding, viral and stealth marketing, and the constant search for the latest ‘cool’ product.
  • The novel predates but heralds the explosion of YouTube (not then invented) and the emergence of specific viral marketing agencies.
  • I liked the references to cutting-edge IT as it was circa 2001 – features that I still remember well but are now almost obsolete – e.g. old computers and text-based Internet forums.
  • The central character, Cayce, was an interesting, sympathetic and well-developed character and someone with whom I could identify as I, too, am allergic to branding and, like Cayce, I used to enjoy hanging around in internet forums.
  • I liked the great portrayal of London as seen through the eyes of an American. Cayce calls this the ‘mirror world’, where everything seems both familiar and alien at the same time.

What I didn’t like about the book:

  • The use of the present tense and short phrases gives the illusion of fast paced narrative. These clever devices disguise the fact that much of the narrative is actually rather sloooow.
  • Since Cayce’s main skill is pattern recognition – an instinctive and visceral response to logos and branding – I would have liked to learn more about this and I expected this to evolve as a major theme and/or allow Cayce to solve the riddle of the Maker. In fact, her skill seems regulated to the sidelines and the mystery is revealed through other agencies.
  • At the climax of the plot, Cayce makes a daring escape and this is just fine and gripping – right up to the point where she is rescued by her male internet buddy. Come on – cliché alert! After following Cayce for 300 or so pages, we deserve a feisty heroine who can get herself out of trouble.
  • The ending feels rushed and we get a detailed exposition, disguised as a conversation, explaining how the plot comes together. I didn’t feel very convinced that all had been adequately explained. Most importantly, again, I feel our intelligent heroine was short-changed. She should have been able to work things out for herself.

What I learned from the book:

Don’t let your ending let down your reader. Your main hero/heroine really should be able to find their own way out of trouble at the climax of the book and, similarly, someone as clever as Cayce should be able to unravel the plot for themselves. The central theme of a book, especially if promised by the title, is expected to play a pertinent part in the final climax.

Including hip-language, and the use of cutting-edge IT, can cause your writing to date quickly. This doesn’t matter in Pattern Recognition because the book is not attempting to show a predicted future. Instead, it presents an enjoyable and convincing slice of culture circa 2001.

The use of the present tense and punchy, incomplete sentences are both effective ways of injecting a sense of pace.



Pattern Recognition, book by William GibsonIn the UK, you can buy this book on Amazon or the Kindle edition.


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