14 August 2006

Pattern Recognition

I finished reading a book. It feels like it's been a while since I did that; I guess it has been about three weeks.

Since the book I'd been expecting to read was still in transit to me when I finished the last one, I borrowed one from the library here. The library has lots of romance novels, and crime novels, and spy thrillers, and military thrillers. None of which I'm much interested in. But I happened to spy a book by William Gibson, he of Neuromancer, called Pattern Recognition, which I decided to pick up and read.

I had to go back and reread my review of Neuromancer, because I liked Pattern Recognition somewhat and wondered what was different, since I recall not liking the earlier book as much.

I think in large measure Neuromancer suffers from my tendency to compare it to Snow Crash, which was written later but is, as far as I'm concerned, far superior in most respects. That and characterization was lousy.

That was not the case with Pattern Recognition. The book is helped by having a cast of characters whose motivations are much more clearly understood than those in Neuromancer; I found it much easier to care about Cayce Pollard than I ever did about Case or Molly.

I still have trouble with some aspect of Gibson's place descriptions. I don't mean to say his setting descriptions, which are nothing if not evocative; I mean his description of geographic space, of the relation of one neighborhood or place to another. I don't know what it is and I don't know how to describe it; it may just be me, or it may be something genuinely odd about Gibson's writing. In either case it's unsettling.

I don't have much of a review. It's Gibson's first "present day" work, which is interesting, but moreso to his fans than to the rest of us. It has been criticized for its frequent "tangential interruptions," to quote one reviewer, which surprises me because Neuromancer was the same way. I guess when Gibson goes off on a tangent about a near-future world of his own creation that's okay, but when he does so about the present world it's a tiresome interruption. I don't understand why that would be so and frankly like the fact that the story wanders a bit. Life wanders a bit, and Gibson's wanderings are interesting.

There are some conceits here; the protagonist is a little... unusual. She has some quirks I guarantee you've never imagined before, and that can take some getting used to. I suppose Gibson likes characters who are a little off the scale; in this case all of them are. If you can get past that, this is an enjoyable read.

1 comment:

dunce said...

I really enjoyed Pattern Recognition while I was reading it (a while back now), but it didn't seem to make any real lasting impression on me. I agree with you about the characters; he's definitely progressed beyond the cardboard cutouts of Neuromancer, although he's still by no means a master of characterization.

Your comment about his treatment of location rings a bell with me -- I felt a similar vague sort of unease that I couldn't put a finger on. Especially the London sections, most of which take part in areas I know very well. It's not anything like blunders in "London continuity"* but more the sense that something is just not right. Maybe I'll give it another read with an eye on this sort of thing.

* "London continuity errors" appear in all sorts of films, and are very joyfully reported by knowing Londoners. Like in this excerpt from a discussion thread on the film "28 Days Later":
Near the beginning when he has just met up with the other two survivors they are in a newsgaent shop in Canary Wharf's Jubille Line Station. This is on the North side of the River Thames on the Isle of Dogs.

They then go to Deptford to see if his parents are still alive. Deptford is on the south side of the river. They do not explain how they get across the river (there are no bridges in the Docklands and the nearest bridge would be Tower Bridge which is approximately a 6 mile walk, they would then have to walk anbother six miles to get to Deptford once over). This may have been a likely course of action as they appear to arrive in Deptford at dusk, which would 'roughyly' fit in with walking 12 miles from the Isle of Dogs.

However, when they decide to leave the house they are shown walking on railway lines (the Dockland Light Railway), again on the Isle of Dogs, just past Mudchute. This would seem to imply that they used either the raileway tunnel from Greenwich to Mudchute, or they used the foot tunnel from Greenwich to Island Gardens. Given the infected prefer to stay in the dark during daylight hours it seems highly unlikely that they would have walked through these tunnels, yet the place they were after crossing the river back from the South to the North side implies they mustr have used the tunnel. (of course they may have used a boat I guess).

However, they then see the lights in the tower block (as dusk is coming again) once on the North side of the river. When they meet up with the father and daughter they decide to travel North to Manchester.

Now they are already on the North side of the river, yet they go through the Blackwall Tunnel from the South side of the river, meaning that they either went back across the river after crossing twice already or, more likely, the tunnel was used because it was a good place to have a 'scary moment'.