I have a confession to make. I’m way behind on William Gibson, despite him being one of my favourite writers.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine about William Gibson and his 2003 novel Pattern Recognition. It was a book I loved, except… I hadn’t read it. Instead, I heard a Radio 4 Extra reading of it and revelled in it. Yet an abridged reading is not the same as the full book, so I returned to the paperback (only finding an earlier purchase of the paperback after I’d bought a new one), and set about reading the story in full.
Cayce Pollard is a coolhunter. She is hired by companies like the agency Blue Ant, to spot new trends in culture and determine what’s current and what will be cool. She’s good at this in part because she has a physical aversion to brands. Her own clothes are methodically de-branded, and in close proximity to sizeable amounts of branding she becomes ill.
She is also obsessessed by a series of film clips that have been appearing online. Who is making them? Where are they being made? What’s the end game? She’s part of an internet forum where their every pixel is discussed.
These two interests will begin to overlap as Blue Ant’s Hubertus Bigend offers her a contract to find the source of these films. To Bigend, this has the potential to be a new viral kind of marketing.
But others are also interested, and a story that extends from London to Tokyo and Moscow, has elements of a spy thriller too. While Gibson is known for his science fiction, this is essentially a contemporary corporate espionage thriller, with a particularly keen sense of place and style. It’s also one of the first post 9/11 books as well, working in the context of the novel.
I suspect that Gibson’s almost fetishistic interest in Pollard’s Buzz Rickson’s MA-1 bomber jacket, is also a personal one. This certainly seems to reflect some of his interests apparent from his lively Twitter feed.
I absolutely loved this book. I knew I loved it before I read it properly for the first time. It has a sense of place – coming out just ahead of smartphones. Pollard has to connect her laptop to her phone via a cable for goodness’ sake! But in all other respects it could just as well be a tale of today and not one of sixteen years ago.
I have all of Gibson’s subsequent novels still to read – not least the pair of books that follow this one in the “Blue Ant” trilogy. Then there’s Gibson’s upcoming novel Agency. This is seemingly both a sequel and prequel to The Peripheral, which Amazon are turning into a TV series under the stewardship of Lisa Joy and Jonathan Nolan. In the meantime, I do recommend this week’s New Yorker profile to read as well.