I’d Order the Fish

Feb 10: Traveling to Phoenix for a pharmaceutical conference (day job). Off my head right now, mainly from not getting enough sleep (the result of a double-OT finish to the NBA All-Star Game last night, and my compulsion to finish reading Gould’s Book of Fish before this trip. It bears re-reading, which is as high a compliment as I can give a contemporary book.
I wanted to finish that one so I could have a “guilt-free” reading of William Gibson’s new novel, Pattern Recognition. I was intrigued by the idea that he set the book in 2002, basing it firmly in a post-9.11 world, instead of an indeterminate SF future. However, that reality seems barely to exist, even though the lead character is a New York resident (she’s in London as the novel begins, and has now jetted her way to Tokyo). Only 150 pages in (as if Gibson had written the previous pages before the attacks) do we get a real mention of the attacks, and Cayce’s story of that day. And it was a pretty lifeless story. The character only expresses the moment-to-moment of that morning, then glosses over everything else. While the destruction of the towers was obviously the most traumatic, emotionally devastating part of the attacks, the reshaping of the world afterward should have been much more prominent in Cayce’s psyche.

As is, there’s barely any sign that this novel needs to be taking place in 2002 (so far). Outside of the necessity of talking about a “new century,” there’s no sign of a new world. Wouldn’t cool-hunter Cayce have noticed the hip trend of banging firemen, in the months after the attacks? With all her talk of grading athletic gear brands, shouldn’t there be some mention of seeing these things on donation piles for the relief workers? Not so far (halfway in). The resonances that could bring the book more vividly into our day-to-day are lacking. Perhaps it’s a function of Gibson’s living so far from here (Vancouver), not seeing what the fruits were borne in the months after.

So I”m disappointed thus far. I”ll probably finish the book before we land, given that this flight is actually FIVE HOURS long (I thought it’d be closer to four, for some reason), and they’ve already gone through the 90 minutes of Jennifer Aniston trying to act like she has conflict (“The Good Girl“).

Feb 11: Not much improvement in the book. Read all but 50 pages before the end of the flight. Get to that tomorrow, on the way home. Plenty of action and adventure, and a sorta mystical way of making art that doesn’t sound that convincing. It’s like my buddy Tavis Allison once said about Signal To Noise, a comic by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean: “I know this is supposed to be about the grand, final film in the movie-maker’s head, but all of his descriptions of it seem to add up to five minutes of screen-time . . .”

Gotta find something else to read on the flight back. And have to pray that it’s a shorter jaunt than the trip here, when we spent almost SIX hours in the air, thanks to those darn headwinds.

Feb 12: Finished it up in the morning. Hung over a little from gallivanting poolside with margaritas, but that didn’t alter my impression the book. Not a good sign, Mr. Gibson. So it was essentially a McGuffin chase across semi-exotic settings (London, Tokyo, Moscow), a la Count Zero, except this time it’s not an AI building bricolage, but something equally implausible. It’s a fantasy world, bearing little resemblance to our own. I suppose I was hoping for a more “literary” novel than this, but when you get down it, Gibson’s a potboiler writer. I ignored his last two books, mainly because he seemed like a cheap SF knockoff of Elmore Leonard (whose work I’ve only read a smidge of). No real change here. I’m being a bit harsh, because he DOES get at some of the peculiarities of our Internet culture (though not blogs, curiously enough) in the book. But that almost exists just as a method of moving the plot along.

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