Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pattern Recognition

Like (probably) most folks reading Gibson the first time, I had to stop, swear, restart, stop and swear again (at the lack of progress and enjoyment in a book which 'everybody' said was great), go back and restart all over again. When I (finally) read the first pages sloooooowly, then it began to dawn on me that here was a unique author who couldn't help but obsessed with every line that he wrote, the full appreciation of which demanded that the novel be read on Gibson's terms, not the reader's. 

One simply cannot 'skim through' a Gibson novel. The beauty is in the micro-descriptions, the layers and layers of psychological minutae (applied to anything from coffee to curtains to airplane seats). The impatient reader raised on a diet of, say, Dan Brown or Jeffrey Archer who just wants to get the 'thrill of the plot' will all but HATE Gibson's work. On the other hand, Gibson is no Rushdie and thus won't offer you surprising tale-twists every other 10 pages or so. That said, no plot doesn't equal no suspense. PR keeps you guessing about almost everything: who created the video footage and why? who's Parkaboy? who's the 'real' bad guy here? what happened to the missing dad? and how does it all cohere? 

Gibson disturbingly yet irresistibly mind-cuffs you to his protagonist (in a way which only Ian McEwan betters, IMO) till you think and act and fear like, in PR's case, Cayce Pollard the key protagonist - 'coolhunter', obsessive, logo-phobic, single yet craving relationship from the strangest people in strange places (e.g. a softie who keeps a gun under his bed, a documentary creator who excavates graves in Russia, a monogamously challenged network executive who can't decide whether to lie or be truthful and an anonymous Web surfer who doesn't sleep, talks funny and spends hours researching mysterious online video footages). 

Along the way we get an express tutorial in upcoming technology, emerging Web trends (or the peculiar habits of selected Web communities), marketing tactics (one character has a full-time job of going to pubs to say how she liked a certain product or idea!) and even jobs we'd have trouble believing were/could be real, e.g. designing the hats worn by characters in video games. 

What was the book 'about'? It was about perceiving geo-techno-politics and the Web through the eyes of Cayce Pollard and two weeks of her already unusual world made even more volatile with new questions, new challenges, new people. 

PR isn't exactly the greatest novel in the genre (of Sci-Fi or Contemporary Thrillers), but this could be due to its categorical misfit. It's fresh (in a maladjusted yet delightful kind of way), its themes are more than relevant (without going 'over-the-top' Michael Crichton style) and it mitigates against traditional narratives structures i.e. there's a Start and there was an End, but I can't classify everything else in between. There's anything but a recognizable pattern here. 

Gibson could be Murakami with a hard-edged cyber-attitude, just as confusing but no less lovable for being so.


Alex Tang said...

I have always enjoyed William Gibson especially in his earlier 'cyperpunk' writings and books. I like his writing style which is like a mind multi-tasking all the time; ideas running off in all direction. In those days, it was revolutionary to write like that. Nowadays I believe it is called post-modern.

alwyn said...

yes, everyone was/is(!) still raving about 'Neuromancer' - it's like a 'God' of sci-fi books. his writing style is what attracted my attention, though strangely enough i needed to learn some patience b4 appreciating him. can't imagine having a mamak conversation w a guy like this, ;>)