MLA Gold Award Site

Summary and book reviews of Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

Pattern Recognition

by William Gibson

Pattern Recognition
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2003, 358 pages
    Feb 2004, 368 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

With his first novel written in the present, Gibson carries his perceptions of technology, globalization, and terrorism into a new century. Suspenseful, wry, and elegantly written, this is his most ambitious and broadly appealing novel to date.

Cayce Pollard (pronounced "case") is a legend in the field of market research, paid handsomely to recognize cultural and social patterns that corporations can turn into cash. Google her and you find "coolhunter," and you may see it suggested that she is a "sensitive" of some kind, a dowser in the world of global marketing. The truth, according to her friends, is that her sensitivity is closer to allergy, a morbid and sometimes violent reactivity to the symbols of the marketplace. Hired by Blue Ant, the world's hippest ad agency, for the sort of high-corporate re-branding she's known for, a more intriguing project emerges when the head of the firm asks her to determine who's producing a mysterious series of video fragments that have gripped the imaginations of people around the world. The source of this footage, carefully concealed, has so far proven untraceable.

For Cayce's worryingly brilliant employer, the footage is the most effective piece of guerilla marketing ever devised. For Cayce herself, the footage has a powerful emotional resonance as she attempts to come to terms with the apparent death of her father — a former U.S. security expert with ties to the intelligence community — in the collapse of the World Trade Center. But what if the sense of nascent meaning that she and others perceive in the footage is only an illusion of meaningfulness — in other words, faulty pattern recognition?

As Cayce begins her hunt for the mysterious "maker", she enlists the help of an odd array of characters, including a young Polish sculptor who works in primitive personal computers , an alcoholic ex-NSA guru hidden away in a rusting house-trailer in the British countryside, an attractive Chinese-American hacker-entrepreneur whose loyalty she questions, and her fellow footage-enthusiast Parkaboy, whom she's come to know (but only, so far, virtually) on a web site devoted to discussion of "the footage". When her rivalry with a fellow worker at the advertising agency takes an ominous turn, Cayce realizes that her investigation of the footage may be not only the most intellectually and emotionally demanding challenge she's yet faced, but dangerous as well. Her borrowed apartment in London is broken into, her laptop is hacked, and she soon learns that her therapist's notes have been stolen in New York.

No longer sure who she can trust, she finds herself flying to Tokyo, where a lovesick Japanese game-designer reveals a concealed code embedded in the footage. Back in London, the foul-mouthed former National Security Agency genius supplies another link in the chain, an e-mail address that leads to Moscow. Before the secrets of the footage's maker are finally revealed, Cayce will be drugged, imprisoned, and pursued. She will also, from unexpected quarters, receive the fullest picture yet of her father's last day in New York, in the shadow of the falling Towers.

William Gibson is credited with having coined the term "cyberspace" and envisioned the Internet — and its effects on daily life — before such phenomena existed. Many of his descriptions and metaphors have entered the culture as images of human relationships in the wired age. Now, with Pattern Recognition, his first novel of the here-and-now, Gibson carries his perceptions of technology, globalization, and terrorism into a new century that is now. Suspenseful, wry, and elegantly written, it is his most ambitious and broadly appealing novel to date.

Chapter 1

Five hours' New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythm.

It is that flat and spectral non-hour, awash in limbic tides, brainstem stirring fitfully, flashing inappropriate reptilian demands for sex, food, sedation, all of the above, and none really an option now.

Not even food, as Damien's new kitchen is as devoid of edible content as its designers' display windows in Camden High Street. Very handsome, the upper cabinets faced in canary-yellow laminate, the lower with lacquered, unstained apple-ply. Very clean and almost entirely empty, save for a carton containing two dry pucks of Weetabix and some loose packets of herbal tea. Nothing at all in the German fridge, so new that its interior smells only of cold and long-chain monomers.

She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien's theory of jet lag is correct: that her ...

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!


Media Reviews

The San Francisco Chronicle

...The completely contemporary Pattern Recognition finds the author rejuvenated, ready to acknowledge that the world has become a stranger place than could have been imagined even 15 years ago. It's his best book in a long time, and perhaps his most accessible one ever!

The Chicago Tribune

It turns out that William Gibson knows as much about the present as he does about the future....Now, in his first book set in the present, Gibson turns loose the full power of his laser eyes and his non-judgmental but awesomely encompassing heart on an exciting thriller that is basically a modern fable, a quest for hints on how to live now....It's a masterful performance from a major novelist who seems to be just now hitting his peak. Welcome to the present, Mr. Gibson

The Washington Post

..overall, Gibson has delivered what is assuredly one of the first authentic and vital novels of the 21st century, placing himself alongside Haruki Murakami as a writer who can conjure the numinous out of the quotidian.

Pattern Recognition

In Gibson's eerie vision of our time, the future has come crashing upon us, fragmentary and undecipherable; as one character declares, "We have no future because our present is too volatile."

The New York Times Book Review

Elegant, entrancing...Without any metafictional grandstanding, Gibson nails the texture of internet culture: how it feels to be close to someone you know only as a voice in a chat room, or to fret about someone spying on your browser's list of sites visited. ...Pattern Recognition is Gibson's most complex, mature gloss on the artist's relationship to our ever more commercialized globe.

Kirkus Reviews

Some elements could have easily been jettisoned...but for every misstep there's a dash of pure, beautiful insight: "We have no future because our present is too volatile . . . We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment's scenarios. Pattern recognition." .... A slick but surprisingly humane piece of work from the father of cyberpunk.

Publishers Weekly

Gibson's brisk, kinetic style and incisive observations should keep the reader entertained even when Cayce's quest begins to lose urgency. Gibson's best book since Mona Lisa Overdrive should satisfy his hardcore fans while winning plenty of new ones.

Booklist - Benjamin Segedin

With incredibly evocative prose, Gibson masterfully captures the essence of a specific time and place and the often chaotic sense of disorientation experienced while globe hopping. Gibson fans will not be disappointed.

Reader Reviews


This was my first Gibson book and although it's well written and has an interesting plot I felt like the author was on auto pilot. I normally don't read science fiction, (here I use science fiction in the sense of technology fiction) and can barely ...   Read More


very well written - but poor subject material.
very well written - but poor subject material.

Disappointed reader

I was really looking forward to this book and couldn't be more disappointed. It was like finding your Adbusters replaced by Glamour, a dull 3-inch excavation of product placement and newbie internet culture. This book should definitely expand Gibson...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!


Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Pattern Recognition, try these:

  • The Last Man Standing jacket

    The Last Man Standing

    by Davide Longo

    Published 2014

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    Davide Longo's Last Man Standing is a vivid description of one man's struggle in a post-apocalyptic world to protect his loved ones even as societal norms give way to barbarism and cruelty.

  • Embassytown jacket


    by China Mieville

    Published 2012

    More about this book

    Read Reviews

    With Embassytown Miéville has crafted an extraordinary novel that is not only a moving personal drama but a gripping adventure of alien contact and war.

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member

Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
by Daisy Goodwin

"A hit…The research is impeccable, the attention to detail, perfect." - The Sunday Mirror (UK)

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
    by Kathleen Rooney

    "Effervescent with verve, wit, and heart" - Booklist, starred review

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win No Man's Land

No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien

Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.


Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Ruler of the Night
    Ruler of the Night
    by David Morrell
    Amateur sleuth Thomas De Quincey is back in a mystery set in Victorian England. This time, he and ...
  • Book Jacket: A List of Cages
    A List of Cages
    by Robin Roe
    Robin Roe has written one helluva young adult debut novel. Alternating first person narratives by a ...
  • Book Jacket: Homesick for Another World
    Homesick for Another World
    by Ottessa Moshfegh
    The frizzy, freaky, funky, and frazzled all pile on in this much anticipated short story collection ...

Word Play

Solve this clue:

H W S W T Devil S H A L S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.