“Pattern Recognition” by William Gibson is science fiction set in the present day. As Gibson saw much of the future that we are living in now back in the 1980s, it is interesting (and probably a good idea) to see how he reads the present.
When the book came out in 2003 Neil Gaiman said it was Gibson’s best book since “Neuromancer”. The Economist said it was one of the best books on the world power of advertising in the Internet age, even though it is not a business book.
It is part science fiction, part spy thriller. It features the Internet, 9/11, the new Russia ruled by money and crime lords, the London advertising world and a Tokyo that is still the future of mankind.
At the heart of the story is the footage: a film that is put out on the Internet frame by frame, but not necessarily in any particular order.
The main characters, each for reasons of his own, want to find out who is producing the footage. It is a mystery. On the Internet you can be anywhere and nowhere. But the closer they get to the truth, the stranger and more violent the story becomes. There is a reason the footage is a well-guarded secret.
Even though the story takes place in the present day, it is still science fiction.
First, it is science fiction in content: it looks at how science and invention affect society through the what-if power of fiction. In this case, Gibson shows how the new power of the Internet bypasses the old power of countries and armies.
Second, it is science fiction in style:
The characters think the way they do in science fiction: making sense of the world through reason, science and false analogies.
It also makes heavy use of description. While necessary for most science fiction, it is overkill for a story set in the present.
The language too is that of science fiction: his words are those of an engineer, not a poet. For example this:
Nothing at all in the German fridge, so new that its interior smells of cold and long-chain monomers.
… setting herself for auto-nod.
Yet Gibson does have something of the poet in him, far more than Clarke or Asimov or Niven ever did. This makes some of his description good. He does choose his words with care.
Most of the places in the book Gibson has seen first-hand. He is not imagining: he is reporting. That is why his descriptions seem so true-to-life.
They seem so true-to-life, in fact, that readers thought they could go out and buy the same bomber jacket that the hero wears: a Rickson’s MA-1. Gibson had made that up. But Rickson’s got so many requests that they starting making them! It is not the first time that Gibson’s fiction has become fact.