Author: William Gibson
Strangely, considering his geek reputation, I’ve never been a Gibson fan. This, his most recent book, is the first I’ve managed to finish. I don’t like his writing style — he overwrites, tries to hard to be poetic, and uses elaborate vocabulary for no good reason. This book was better — I was able to tolerate the style — but it’s a strange novel.
Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where the crew meet that alien species that no one has been able to communicate with? Their speech is incomprehensible, even for the universal translator. Then Captain Picard figures out that their speech is entirely based on common historical references. For instance, if I said, “Romeo and Juliet at the balcony,” you would know what I meant, and that simple phrase would conjure up images of romance. Well, to someone who’s never heard of the play, the reference is meaningless. That made learning the alien’s language tough. Gibson does a similar thing in this book (and perhaps his other books, I don’t know). He casually throws out odd references and assumes we’ll understand. While I, being a computer geek, understood the computer-related ones, there were a number that were fashion-oriented, and I didn’t get those at all. Fashion plays a big role in this book, as do logos. You see the main character, Cayce, is allergic to certain logos and trademarks. She uses this “talent” to consult with companies on the logos they choose (she can tell them if the new logo they’ve picked is bad or not). That’s a cool concept. But the woman is therefore extremely picky about the clothes she wears (she tears the labels off everything she buys), and I gathered there were subtle references to and jabs at fashion designers I missed because I pay no attention to that aspect of reality at all. Anyway, my point is that Gibson’s prose is often impossible to comprehend because he doesn’t explain anything. And he still overwrites. Here’s the first sentence of the book: “Five hours’ New York jet lag and Cayce Pollard wakes in Camden Town to the dire and ever-circling wolves of disrupted circadian rhythm.” Uh huh. Yeah. Beautiful. Fortunately the whole novel isn’t that way, just bits and pieces. Unfortunately, the plot is rather mundane. It seems like it’s got promise, and I kept reading, and there are some fascinating diversions, but in the end the conclusion was unsatisfying. I will say that in that respect the plot is like real life. Of course I don’t read novels (especially this kind of novel) to experience real life. The story itself deals with an Internet phenomenon known as Footage. Clips of an unknown film are being released anonymously on the ‘net. There are 135 of them so far, and fans edit the clips together in various assemblages, debate and argue various viewpoints, etc., but no one knows who’s creating the clips, if it’s a part of an ongoing work or a completed film being released in pieces, or why it’s being released in this manner. But it’s becoming a cult with millions of fans around the globe eagerly waiting the next clip release. Cayce is one of these fans. Then her current employer hires her to find the source of the Footage. Her quest takes her around the world, and there are mysterious events happening. Someone has been in her apartment, she’s being followed, someone tries to mug her, and she learns she can’t trust anyone. It’s a wonderful concept, but the ending is unsatisfying both because it’s so ordinary and because we still don’t understand the motivations behind everything. There are too many unanswered questions (a few would have been okay, but here there are dozens). This book is apparently very different from Gibson’s other works, which was why I was interested in reading it. I wasn’t that impressed though: it took me weeks to slough through it and for what? I didn’t get much out of it. I am interested in Gibson as I writer, though, so perhaps I’ll try one of his other books and see if I can’t make it through. Not right away, though. I need a break.