Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jet lag to the power of 2

32. Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

Lent to me by Wasabi Prime for a travel read, I had to occasionally lift up my head from the book and quietly chuckle at how appropriate the book was for traveling purposes: the mood of the book is hazy and often dreamlike, to reflect the protagonist's continuous and ever-worsening jet lag as she zips between Japan, Britain, the United States and Russia, both physically and mentally. So, to get the most of this book, try reading it while being jet-lagged yourself! It's quite a sensation.

The novel's protagonist, Cayce, makes a living by recognizing trends and evaluating how effective company logos are--a true 20th century occupation. Outside of her professional life she is literally allergic to logos and brands (breaking into sweats when even hearing the name Tommy Hilfiger), and she is obsessed with items that are clean of any branding. Which is probably why she is so wrapped up with mysterious, short clips of film of people barely in focus that are posted online. She and her fellow enthusiasts analyze and over-analyze these clips in an anonymous online message board, trying to figure out who the people in the clips are and who on Earth could be making them. There doesn't seem to be any pattern to the clips, which is what throws Cayce off and makes the clips even more intriguing to her.

Once a coder finds a watermark in one of the clips, she is hired to find out the maker of the clip. She suspects that the motivation of her employer is anything but noble: clips that have millions of people waiting for them with baited breath should surely be harnessed for viral marketing and branding. Still, Cayce herself and her compatriots are eager to find out the origins of the clips, so with the money given to her by her employer, she begins to travel the world to find out what kind of a genius has such power over people with only a few frames of film at a time.

Branding, logos and viral marketing--as well as the female protagonist--made me think of Popco, which is a really cool book about code-writing and breaking and marketing, among other things. While Popco was a breeze to read, Gibson's run-on sentences and his comma-comma-comma-comma-comma-chameleon writing style was often just exhausting to read. William, we won't think of you as any lesser a writer if you'll use full stops every now and then!

This was the first book I had read by Gibson, and I did enjoy it. It obviously was also a cathartic writing exercise for him, as the novel ties in the events of 9/11 in a manner that somehow just did not seem to meld with the rest of the story, although the ending tries to make the most of it. It seemed like a topic Gibson needed to get out onto the paper, and used Pattern Recognition as a vessel for it.

When K. heard that I was reading a Gibson book, he asked, "Is there a character who is a disgustingly loathsome social outcast, has some kind of a neurosis or an eccentric problem, and preferably is a real genius hiding from the government?" All I could say was, "Does Gibson get extra points if he's also Russian?"

33. Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris

(Ugh, the cover again. What's with this crap? When does Sookie even wear pants like that in this novel? Or ever?)

The second installment of the Sookie Stackhouse novels! Same old, same old--but in a good way. I could copy and paste my previous post about Harris here, because I had the exact same reactions to Living Dead in Dallas as I had to this one: the book has elements from the second season of the film version, but the film version completely took off with the manaead storyline, creating it an issue with Tara more than with Sookie, and leaving Sookie to deal with the case of the missing vampire that was most likely kidnapped by a church. A church that preaches peace and love, and getting rid of vampires by exposing them to the sun while they are strapped to a big cross. The cross-burning reference here is obvious.

It continues to amaze me how easily Harris intertwines the incredibly silly and the socially critical. This book was a very quick read partly because it is written in a fairly straight-forward manner, without any crazy bells and whistles, yet it still manages to make interesting points about prejudice, whether it is toward people or things we don't understand and fear, or toward people we deem of lower status than ourselves.

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