Tag Archives: William Gibson

PATTERN RECOGNITION – William Gibson (2003)

Pattern Recognition

In an interview a few days ago, Andrew Rosen – former CEO of Theory, a fashion brand – says that “the future leaders of fashion companies are going to be marketers, not merchants, merchants being “the guys that understand how to put everything together and tell the story.” Hubertus Bigend, the antihero of this novel, and CEO of advertising company Blue Ant, says something similar: “Far more creativity, today, goes into the marketing of products than into the products themselves, athletic shoes or feature films.

The novel published 16 years ago, one might think Gibson visionary, but Rosen in the same interview says his father identified change already in the mid-70ies, “because that was when designers, and designer-identified products, became the most important things in the business, not manufacturing companies”. In the early 90ies, grim comedian Bill Hicks took on the pernicious power of advertising and marketing too, in a famous stand-up routine.

All this not to say Gibson wrote an irrelevant novel, on the contrary, Gibson wrote a novel that is very much of these times, dealing with topics – branding, globalization, originality, monoculture – that define big parts of our contemporary lives. It then doesn’t surprise that the Wikipedia page on Pattern Recognition is quite long, and even has quotes from postmodern theorist Frederic Jameson on the novel. Yes: Gibson is that kind of powerhouse, the kind that attracts the attention of a powerhouse like Jameson.

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BURNING CHROME and other stories – William Gibson (1986)

burning-chromeOn the final page of the final story – the title story – Gibson envisions a possible future for prostitution.

The customers are torn between needing someone and wanting to be alone at the same time, which has probably always been the name of that particular game, even before we had the neuroelectronics to enable them to have it both ways.

It struck me how much reading books satisfies the same urge: wanting to be alone and needing someone at the same time.

Burning Chrome‘s 10 stories are populated by Gibson’s usual kind of characters, and deal with Gibson’s usual themes – although I probably shouldn’t make a sweeping statement like that, as I’ve only read two Gibson novels so far: Neuromancer & Virtual Light. Those two reading experiences weren’t fully successful, but reading this collection was, 100%.

The stories were published between 1977 and 1986, and are rather short: about 15 pages each, and not one of them above 30 pages. They fly by like a breeze, snappy, in prose that’s top notch. Here’s Gibson – in the voice of a photographer – on some building:

I shot one in San Jose an hour before the bulldozers arrived and drove right through the structural truth of plaster and lathing and cheap concrete.

That sentence alone should convince you.

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VIRTUAL LIGHT – William Gibson (1993)

Virtual LightI was a bit disappointed with the acclaimed Neuromancer, but I thought Gibson nonetheless had an interesting way with words, so I decided to give another one of his novels a chance. Virtual Light is mostly set in San Francisco, and is a thriller about a bike courier that accidentally steals high-tech sunglasses with important data on them, and finds herself chased by the male protagonist and an assortment of goons, dirty cops and a hit-man with gold canine teeth.

The cyberpunk/sci-fi component isn’t that important actually, and serves more as a backdrop. The Time Out reviewer that’s quoted on the back and claimed that VL is “studded with crackling insights into the relationship between technology, culture and morality” is no stranger to hyperbole: both ‘crackling’ and ‘studded’ seem stretched.

Gibson took a risk writing this book with a 2006 setting, only 13 years after its publication date. In hindsight, that risk didn’t pay off, as Gibson is totally off with nearly every prediction in this book – technologically too optimistic, and socially (much) too pessimistic. At times unbelievable and cartoonish too, with stuff like the Adult Survivors of Satan, the idolatry of an ex-con that provided the cure for AIDS, a cult that believes god resides in reruns of old movies, etc.

Virtual Light has the same gritty, dystopian vibe as Neuromancer, and Gibson still mainly shows and hardly tells, with short sentences and realistic, elliptic dialogue – albeit a bit less dense. As such, I liked it a lot better, and the story got me hooked quickly. After about 2 thirds in though, the mysterious promise that the sunglasses held quickly dissolved. When it became clear why they were so wanted, I lost nearly all interest in the story and the characters. So, in the end, VL turned out to be disappointing too. Still, I’m not ready to fully give up on Gibson. Burning Chrome is next on the list.

tl;dr: the language and the mood is excellent, the story not so much.

NEUROMANCER – William Gibson (1984)

NeuromancerThis book was hard work. I’m not sure if that hard work really paid off. I liked some parts, and there were some amazing sentences here and there, but overall this was too much stream of consciousness writing, and I didn’t really connect with Gibson’s consciousness. It doesn’t have the density of a book like Gravity’s Rainbow, but still, Neuromancer is a very dense book by any other standard, and it left me tired. It does get a bit easier, with a lot more exposition, towards the final 3rd of the book.

Density and unclear writing aren’t marks of valor per se. It might seem highbrow or sophisticated to read a dense book, and that’s undoubtedly part of the novel’s appeal – it adds to the reader’s own sense of prestige – , but one could easily argue that because of the style the characters are not clearly drawn and lifeless. The writing adds to the sense of chaos, but at the same time hides possible plot holes and almost violently forces the reader to suspend disbelief. I wonder whether the story itself would suffice to create the same effect.

So, one could debate Gibson being either a sloppy writer or otherwise a mad genius that only the willing and able can truly appreciate. The more I think about, the more I realize that I should maybe reread Neuromancer, with different expectations and a different mindset, and a more persistent effort to try to understand more of it. As it is, after my first reading, I didn’t feel that there was enough there content wise to justify Gibson’s formal approach. At times, I just wanted to quit, and I read on mainly because it has such a legacy.

As for the cyberpunk part of Neuromancer‘s influence, I really liked Stephenson’s take on the matter in Snow Crash a lot better. It had the same vibe, but because of clearer writing, the outrageousness of the world it painted impacted a lot more. Snow Crash read like a much more exciting book, with a more exciting story about more exciting characters in a more exciting world.

Some reviewers pointed out that Neuromancer may have well been written under the influence of drugs. Yes, it’s outlandish and otherworldly, but it felt disjointed and random too. While I can imagine other readers to enjoy it, and understand its historical relevance, for now I don’t feel it lives up to the hype. A blurry, messy book.

originally written on the 25th of February, 2015