Thursday, January 18, 2007

First Book of the Batch: Pattern Recognition

Okay, first I should give the disclaimer that even with a B.A. and Master's in English and being a lifelong, die-hard bookworm, I really kind of suck at writing generally about books. I hate giving grammar-school type book report summaries of plot, and I just don't have the time or inclination to go deeply into all the academic whatsis of what makes a book work. Or not.

That said, I'm happy to say that I loved reading this first book in my Christmas-gift batch. I had a great time with it, and it reminded me that it's a pity when good books and good writers are slapped with a genre label, and then people like me tend to turn up their noses and move on down the shelf. Although it helped that the book was covered in glowing reviews from esteemed places like The Washington Post, and The New York Times, as opposed to, say, CyberGeek Monthly (I'm sure it exists, somewhere).

Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson, was not on my Amazon wishlist. Myk bought it for me because he'd listened to the audiobook a couple of years back and liked it and wondered what my take would be. I knew of William Gibson more because of his cool visionary-of-the-future image than because of his actual writing, and of course I'd heard of Neuromancer. (Another book Myk speaks well of, that I've yet to pick up. Although that will probably change, now.) Just thinking about Neuromancer gives me the heebie-jeebies, because although I have no idea what the plot is about -- except that it takes place in the future -- the title alone reminds me of all that creepy, alien-scary artwork by H.R. Geiger. And Geiger's artwork, as experienced by the few wall calendars Myk has displayed over the years, reminds me in turn of all those dark, scary, herky-jerky Tool videos. Taken together, all those associations and biases and generally creepy vibes kept me well away from any of Gibson's work.

Back to the book. So, Pattern Recognition is about this young woman named Cayce (after Edgar, which I guessed before it was explained), pronounced Case. She lives an austere, modern life in NYC where she works as a freelance cool-hunter for major corporations and advertisers, who want to tap into that mojo she has for knowing what young, net-savvy consumers will go for. Cayce has some quirks, the most noteworthy being her "allergy" for brand logos and labeling, from designer clothing labels to the Michelin man. Mickey Mouse makes her queasy, and the Michelin man gives her some serious panic attacks. She pays a locksmith to grind the Levi markings off the buttons of her black 501s, and favors black clothing that is intentionally without reference to any major trend or era. Cayce is also a follower of "the footage," a series of brief, non-linear film clips that have begun to mysteriously appear in random dark alleys of the web. She and fellow Footage junkies spend lots of time on an online forum dissecting the meaning and trying to guess the creator of the films. Oh, and Cayce's dad, a security expert with ties to the CIA, disappeared in New York on 9/1l.

And now I'm getting tired and overwhelmed with the book report-ish aspect of the above, and I thus send you here if you want a better summary. Suffice it to say, I thought the novel was pretty rip-roarin', and just plain fun., although the general mood of the story itself is rather somber, gray and melancholic, with all the references to graves, and ash and the looming presence of the Twin Towers, in their absence. But reading this also made me feel kinda hip, in that its main setting, in spite of all the world travel to London, Tokyo and Russia, is really the Internet itself, and I think it captures pretty well the feeling of having what sometimes feels like half your life and contacts floating apart from you out there in cyberspace (a word Gibson himself coined back in Neuromancer). Also, since none of the other online summaries seem to mention it, I should at least bring up the weird ESP and psychic stuff that occurs at a few key moments, too -- referencing cleverly back to Cayce's name and namesake, I suppose.

I kept thinking that this would make a great movie, if it was treated right and they actually kept to the story. Usually having that feeling while reading a novel is a bad sign overall, but I think in this case -- and, let's face it, Gibson is still primarily considered a genre writer, even if he did create the cyberpunk genre himself -- having that "this should be a movie!" feeling doesn't mean that the writing itself is dashed-off pap.

And now, having gone over to the Wikipedia site, I see tantalizing news that Gibson's new book, Spook Country, will be released this year, and also that director Peter Weir is working on a movie version of Pattern Recognition. Now if only they don't cast Reese Witherspoon or Angelina Jolie to play Cayce.....

Anyway, bottom line: Good book. Thanks, honey. (But I'm still not going to be reading any of your Douglas Adams books anytime soon.)



Blogger yanjunj said...

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11:35 PM  
Anonymous Morgan said...

Hey just found your fun blog. I'm a fellow So. Cal'er. My hubby is getting his Masters at UCLA in Screenwriting. I also find myself always saying to him "that should be a movie!"

8:57 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Hi Morgan,

Thanks for the comment! Your husband must be pretty good, as I hear that's a tough program to get into.

7:49 AM  

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