So William Gibson has stopped blogging for a while. He’s off to write another novel and sees blogging and writing as incompatible. I read his last novel Pattern Recognition earlier this year and while it didn’t blow me away I realise now that it lingers in my mind and has planted a few ideas that won’t go away.
When I first read his now infamous book Neuromancer, it did blow me away. In a single beautifully crafted novel he created the concept of cyberspace, not just the word but also a vivid picture of that dark, virtual, alternative universe. And you have to remember he wrote it before the Matrix, before the web, in fact before just about anything that could be construed as ‘cyber’ — it was first published in 1984.
Pattern Recognition, is a very different beast, although it retains Gibson’s wonderful turn of descriptive phrase. “In the sunlit street, all is still; nothing moves save the cinnamon blur of a cat, just there, and gone.” The book hasn’t got universally good reviews (Pat Kane gave it a good slating in the Independent, Toby Litt was less than full of praise in the Guardian) and sure it’s not the step change that Neuromancer represented but a few months on I can call up the characters, the places and the ideas pretty clearly.
The main character is called Cayce (in a sly self-reference back to Neuromancer’s main character Case) Pollard, a freelance cool-hunter-come-branding-expert with an allergy to shameless, blatant branding. Her worst fear is being trapped in a room with a likeness of the Michelin Man. Her latest project is to track down the creator of mesmerising, anonymous video clips posted on the internet that have developed a cult following among those who know. Her search takes her through London, Tokyo and Moskow via expensive hotels, mysterious credit cards and the first class cabins of British Airways (Gibson obviously did a bit of fieldwork in the latter).
What I realise now is that the fictitious, paranoid, nervous, fast, caffeinated world of Pattern Recognition is a world that some people live in, a parallel universe to the experience of the many perhaps, but nonetheless, one that I recognise. Maybe that’s because I’m writing this sat in a coffee shop using my iBook not a million miles from the Camden and Soho where much of the book is set. Paul Kingsnorth wrote an article for the New Statesman recently that I think is a wonderful poem slamming the growing ‘placeless’ jetsetting elite that Cayce somehow represents. I wouldn’t be quite as negative as he is (maybe because I’m an occasional member of the great travelling conference centre caravan) but Gibson might have picked out the aspect of connectedness that is the most real and has the largest effect.
I remember too the phrase ‘mirror world’ from the book — a pretty good catch-all for our globalised world. A friend told me that about the Thai phrase that translates literally as “same, same… but different”. Bars, cafes, breakfast cereals are the same the world over but different in little ways. I’ve done quite a bit of travelling this year and it fits with my experience. I remember too the idea of jet lag being the process of your soul catching up which reminds me of a perhaps apocryphal story of African tribesman who having arrived via an airliner sat on the runway at Heathrow and when asked why replied “we are waiting for our souls to join us”.
So there you go, a few thoughts on something I probably should have blogged at the time. I do look up to William Gibson, I like his style and I like the understated radicalism of his ideas. I’ve often wondered how he does it and on his site he says, “I suspect I have spent just about exactly as much time actually writing as the average person my age has spent watching television, and that, as much as anything, may be the real secret here.”
Maybe I watch too much TV.
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