William Gibson, the influential science fiction author who coined the term "cyberspace" and created the character Johnny Mnemonic, has moved closer in his recent work to writing about the present day. In Gibson's eagerly awaited new novel, Pattern Recognition, the present collides with the future in a world where corporations are pushing their brand messages ever-deeper into everyday life.

In this uncomfortably familiar world, a young woman named Cayce Pollard possesses a sixth sense regarding logos and advertising; she can tell whether symbols or words in ads will be successful. The flip side of this talent is her hypersensitivity to branding a display of Tommy Hilfiger clothes can send her reeling.

Pollard is working for an ultra-hip ad agency in London when a Belgian tycoon, Hubertus Bigend, offers her a job. Her prior knowledge of Bigend warns her away, but the combination of his charisma and her curiosity is irresistible, and she is soon on her way to Tokyo. She has been hired to find the origins of "the footage" a film being anonymously uploaded to the Internet a few seconds at a time. Pollard is already a "footagehead," one of thousands of people keeping track of the developing story and arguing over the film's origins.

Pattern Recognition takes place one year after the events of September 11, 2001, and the terrorist attacks are part of the context of Pollard's life. Her father who was not supposed to be near the World Trade Center that morning disappeared on September 11, and his body was never found. His probable death and Pollard's response let us ponder the attacks, consider our own reactions and see the events in relation to the rest of the world.

In Pattern Recognition, Gibson puts his visionary focus on the impact of the interconnected global economy and reveals how the constant pressure to consume chips away at our sense of self. With spare prose and an intriguing plot, Gibson's novel offers a powerful warning about the dangers that lurk in a society where human beings are seen as nothing more than a collection of marketing behaviors. Gavin J. Grant runs an independent small press in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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