Friday, March 18, 2005

Book Review: Pattern Recognition

I finished Pattern Recognition (William Gibson) yesterday, and I figured I'd write up some thoughts on the subject.

I think the easiest way to describe how I feel about this book is that I wanted to stop reading it about 75% of the way through it, knowing that the setup was inevitably going to outdo the payoff. And I was right, of course. Not that the ending was bad, just that this type of story spends so much time setting up the ending that there's no way to make it fit your expectations.

Let's back up a bit. First off, Gibson does an amazing job with immersion. Sometimes I felt he was too clever for his own good with his analogies, but this is probably my own bias and not something inherent in his writing. Other times I felt that he lingered too long on trying to make me identify with Cayce's anxiety in a given situation. It got to the point where some passages were hard to read because I was so wrapped up in getting inside Cayce's weird head. This, again, is probably just my own taste.

The next big thing going on in this book is his use of the online world in a significant story way. He talks about web forums, hotmail accounts, google, and the net culture in general in a very familiar way. I kept going back and forth on how I felt about this. Basically, he's done what geeks are always asking for; he's made an exciting story involving these elements of the online world without granting them supernatural powers. Nobody hacked into the White House web page to launch a nuclear missile or anything. On the other hand, I live this world every day of the week and it's kind of boring. So, yeah, three cheers for getting it mostly right, but the reward for that is kind of pedestrian. It's not like "wow, he got the Mafia family structure -down pat-" ... it's like "wow, he got forum flame wars -down pat-." W00t, I guess.

Meh. I don't know.

I guess the key to understanding this book is that it isn't science fiction. This is a thriller/mystery in the same way a Dan Brown book is, though I enjoyed it more. We're not dealing with the technology of tomorrow as derived on today, but rather the technology of today as a big player in a somewhat generic thriller, with the same problem a lot of thrillers have: the ending doesn't flow smoothly out of the story, and leaves you mentally trying to piece everything together, trying to make sure the rules he's set up over the past few hundred pages haven't been broken. Sometimes that's part of the fun; for whatever reason this time around I was just glad to know it wasn't a complete screwjob at the end (OMG, it's all a dream, or some such).

All in all I was happy with the book. I enjoyed it (almost) every time I picked it up. But it's not going on any top ten lists any time soon, and I'm not going to go out of my way to look for other books like it.

Fair enough?

Binary rating: Thumbs up.

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