Author: William Gibson
Publisher: New York: Penguin Putnam, 2003
Review Published: October 2003
And looks up, to the window that frames the towers. And what she will retain is that the exploding fuel burns with a tinge of green that she will never hear or see described.
Cayce ... will watch the towers burn, and eventually fall, and though she will know she must have seen people jumping, falling, there will be no memory of it.
It will be like watching one of her own dreams on television. Some vast and deeply personal insult to any ordinary notion of interiority.
An experience outside culture. (137)
Pattern Recognition's protagonist is Cayce Pollard, a freelance image consultant and logo guru. Gibson mediates her introduction thus: "Google Cayce and you will find 'coolhunter,' and if you look closely you may see it suggested that she is a 'sensitive' of some kind, a dowser in the world of global marketing" (2). The ubiquity of Google, it seems, has seen it mutate from number to noun and, now, to verb. When not uncovering emergent trends in fashion and advertising, Cayce is obsessed with "the footage": mysteriously beautiful and brilliant video clips which have emerged over the Internet, but which have no definitive origin. The closest thing Cayce has to a home is "Fetish:Footage:Forum" (F:F:F), an online discussion group dedicated to the footage, seeking to understand, interpret and, above all else, to try and discover its origins.
Although Cayce has a New York apartment, she never returns there during the novel, giving F:F:F the central place in the narrative usually occupied by a home or, given the noir-like style of Pattern Recognition, theoffice. Moreover, F:F:Fís digital location and function allow Gibson to make insightful comments not only about these forums, but also other forms of online communication. Cayceís dislike for chat environments, for example, provides a pithy interpretation of their drawbacks: "The hectic speed, and the brevity of the lines in the thread, plus the feeling that everyone was talking at once, at cross-purposes, deter her" (4). Email, too, gets a witty once-over, addressing both the problems of spam and the monopoly of Microsoft in a manner which suggests Gibsonís take on technology is directed by first-hand experience (something absent from all of his previous novels): "Hotmail downloads four messages, none of which she feels like opening. Her mother, three spam. The penis enlarger is still after her" (5).
The banality of the digital world so described seduces the reader into a semblance of familiarity which is effectively and abruptly ruptured when Cayce discovers that her laptop, email, and phones have all been under continual surveillance. The sense of invasion and paranoia these passages provoke are all too familiar in our post-September 11 world.
Questions of authenticity and originality in the face of the digital are also thoroughly scrutinized. Bigend, the ironically named CEO of the advertising company currently employing Cayce, gives voice to some fairly keen observations about copyright, the Internet, and "the classics." For example:
While Pattern Recognition in itself offers a great deal to cybercultural critics, readers familiar with Gibson's earlier work will appreciate the many ironic and self-depreciating references to his earlier novels. Readers of Gibsonís first and most widely known novel Neuromancer (in which, as we all well know by now, he coined the term cyberspace) will remember that the console cowboy protagonist was named Case. In Pattern Recognition, the central character's name is very similar:
"Case?" [asks Voytek]
"Actually," she finds herself explaining, "it should be pronounced 'Casey,' like the last name of the man my mother named me after. But I don't." (31)
Even if, as Cayce's remediated memories suggest, September 11 really was "an experience outside culture," Pattern Recognition is, at least, a valiant attempt to map the emotional, political, and social impact that the fall of the Towers had on Western culture. For cybercultural studies, that is reason enough to read and re-read Pattern Recognition since, like Gibson's earlier work, this novel engages as directly with the Western dominated digital landscape as any critical work available today. Also, the development of Gibson's own blog and forum serve to solidify his ongoing and lasting presence in the digital ether. Gibson's second trilogy (Virtual Light , Idoru  and All Tomorrow's Parties ) seemed to slip under the academic radar somewhat. The only book-length analysis thus far is Dani Cavallaro's disappointing Cyberpunk and Cyberculture (2000), and less than a handful of articles have examined the trilogy (see Farnell , Leaver  and Murphy ). However, given Pattern Recognition's rich critical potential for cybercultural studies, I am confident it will not suffer the same fate.
Cavallaro, Dani. Cyberpunk and Cyberculture: Science Fiction and the Work of William Gibson. London: Athlone Press, 2000.
Farnell, Ross. "Posthuman Topologies: William Gibson's 'Architexture' in Virtual Light and Idoru." Science Fiction Studies 25.3 (1998): 459-80.
Gibson, William. Virtual Light. London: Penguin Books, 1993.
___. All Tomorrow's Parties. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1999.
___. Idoru. London: Penguin Books, 1997.
___. Neuromancer. New York: Ace Books, 1984.
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Verso, 1991.
Jenkins, Henry. "The Poachers and the Stormtroopers: Cultural Convergence in the Digital Age." Red Rock Eater News Service (1998). Accessed 20 August, 2002.
___. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York & London: Routledge, 1992.
Leaver, Tama. "Interstitial Spaces and Multiple Histories in William Gibson's Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties." Limina 9 (2003): 118-130.
Murphy, Graham. "Post/Humanity and the Interstitial: A Glorification of Possibility in Gibson's Bridge Sequence." Science Fiction Studies 30.1 (2003): 72-90.
Tama Leaver is writing a PhD in English, Communication and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia entitled "Artificialities: From Artificial Intelligence to Artificial People - Representations and Constructions of Identity and Embodiment in Contemporary Speculative Texts." When not pondering overly long titles, his research interests include cultural studies, digital culture, science fiction, and contemporary film. Tama also reviewed Bell's An Introduction to Cybercultures for RCCS. <email@example.com>
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