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Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson (Books 2008, 18)

Cayce Pollard has a strange kind of allergy: certain brands make her ill.

Or at least, their logos do; seeing the Michelin Man, for instance, sets her off in a particularly bad way. She has a corresponding - and possibly linked - talent, which is that she can reliably tell whether a new logo, for example, is going to work; and she can spot trends that are developing on the street. Using these abilities she is able to make a pretty good living by acting as a freelance consultant to marketing people, advertisers, and so on.

It sounds like a pretty shallow kind of life, but she’s an engaging character, and Gibson manages both to make her role seem interesting, and to enmesh her in an international plot that keeps the pages turning.

The main weakness, perhaps, is that you never get the sense that she’s in any real danger. And the mysteries that she ends up investigating find their solutions too easily.

I don’t think Gibson has written anything really startling since his debut, but this is a fun enough read.

I always tend to touch on genre here, but I make no apologies for it. The odd thing here is that, while is clearly not SF in terms of setting and content (it’s the very near future of the time it was written, which makes it our very near past, and has some already-surprising spots that feel like anachromisms, but aren’t: like connecting a new laptop to a new phone by wire, rather than BlueTooth; and the only speculative content is Cayce’s curious affliction/ability), it still feels like SF. And I’m not sure entirely why that is. Gbson’s style is no doubt part of it, and the rest must be theme: it does, after all, address the way the world is changing, and the effect those changes are having on the people that live through them.

The curious thing, really, is that such themes should trigger an SF response in the reader (or writer) What does it say about ‘mainstream’ literature if that genre doesn’t address the world today?

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