The first thing I noticed when I began to read William Gibson's newest
book, "Pattern Recognition," is that it doesn't appear to be science
fiction. Gone are the far-out days of bionic implants and cyberspace.
Gone even are the closer days of nanotechnology and artificial intelligence
from "Idoru" and "All Tomorrow's Parties." For all we know, the events
of "Pattern Recognition" could be playing out right this moment in odd
corners of the Internet.
I found this unsettling, at first. After all, Gibson is the father of
cyberpunk, and stands iconically for some sort of special deranged
modernity. And then I got it: William Gibson doesn't need to write
science fiction any more. His future has arrived. It doesn't look
like the one he used to write about, not on the surface at least. We
don't have cyberware and cyberspace and Rastafarian space stations.
Certainly nothing from the more outre stories in "Burning Chrome."
But although all those decorations are the most powerful legacy of
his work, though they literally define a genre, they were never the
This is the thing that most cyberpunk authors fail to get (Michael
Swanwick and Walter Jon Williams are notable exceptions---Neal
Stephenson is not). I say Gibson's vision of the future is about
nothing more or less than a psychological climate. His worlds are
small, filled with the scent of competition, of obsolescence, of a
vague sense of panic that some force can reach out of nowhere and
screw up your life for reasons you'll never really understand. His
world is totally under control of humans and at the same time
careening out of control, too many players, big and little, all
pushing this way and that gumming up the works. You're never really
alone, and if you stop running, you might as well drop out of the
race. It's not the technology, it's the way it shrinks the world and
makes us all both powerful and vulnerable at the same time.
William Gibson doesn't need to write science fiction any more. His
world has arrived. Cayce Pollard, fencing with an advertising startup
in "Pattern Recognition," is no different than Marly fencing with
Josef Virek in "Count Zero." ParkaBoy doing detective work on the
Internet is no different than Laney doing his data witchery in
"Idoru." The stark discordant closeness and distance of the
characters is something we are all learning, when it's easier to talk
with distant friends than nearby neighbors.
But enough philosophy. You want to know about the book. Well, I'll
say this much: it's well done. One thing that has improved in Gibson's
writing over the years is his storytelling. The disjointness and sense
of alienation feels deliberate rather than a product of presentation,
and the story is quite compelling. Is it good? I suppose. I don't
know if I learned anything by reading it, and it's certainly not
cyberpunk in the Genre sense, so don't read it if that's what you want.
But actually, I suppose I did get something out of it. Not something
I'm particularly comfortable with, but something about our world, and
what it is becoming. I don't think I like it, but it's true. After
all, William Gibson doesn't need to write science fiction any more.
And if that fact intrigues you, you should read this book.