Pattern Recognition (Blue Ant, #1)

By William Gibson

48,595 ratings - 3.85* vote

Cayce Pollard is an expensive, spookily intuitive market-research consultant. In London on a job, she is offered a secret assignment: to investigate some intriguing snippets of video that have been appearing on the Internet. An entire subculture of people is obsessed with these bits of footage, and anybody who can create that kind of brand loyalty would be a gold mine for Cayce Pollard is an expensive, spookily intuitive market-research consultant. In London on a job, she is offered a secret

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Book details

Mass Market Paperback, 367 pages
February 2005 by Berkley Books

(first published February 3rd 2003)

Original Title
Pattern Recognition
0425198685 (ISBN13: 9780425198681)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


2018 re-read.

I wrote the below review in March 2015, obviously still not really sure what I had just read. When reading for pleasure (and a lot of the time truth be told) I am a simple man who’ll go after a laugh if there’s one to be had and I did then. But I knew I liked the book and I also knew there was more to the book than I realized.

As readers, we must acknowledge our mortality and in so doing I am conscious of this fact when I consider re-reading a book. There’s only so much time and there are hundreds of thousands of books that I WON’T read, only a few thousand I will read (Lord willing and creek don’t rise). So making the extravagant decision to read a book a SECOND time is reserved for those that are special in some way.

I have read hundreds of books and remember most of them, some more than others obviously. But there are some that I think about long after reading and Pattern Recognition was one. As time passed, I knew that I would need to go back to re-visit. Yes, NEED. When a writer plants a seed in your mind and years later you are still coming to grips with the fruit it bore, there is an intellectual, instinctive need to explore further. Gibson had struck a chord in me and what that was continued to nag away, demanding a more scrutinizing study.

As the writer of Neuromancer, Gibson astounded with his prophetic heralding of the internet and all of the cultural implications that brought about. Here was a writer with his fingers on the pulse of our age, who could glimpse what came next in a way few others could. In the Blue Ant series, began with Pattern Recognition first published in February 2003, Gibson explored the months following 9/11 and again acting as a barometer for our atmosphere, cast a reflective surface before our collective countenance.

When I deployed to Iraq in 2005, we had a briefing by an Army Colonel who described our mission and he said something that still sticks with me. He said the war on terror was largely a war of information. The terrorists were doing horrible things and then disseminating the information about those acts to cause further damage. The destruction in New York and Washington, and all the other acts against civilization, were the focal point, and like ripples in a pond, the concentric circles spread the harm out further and further.

Gibson has here described a post 9/11 world where the protagonist has a hyper-sensitivity to advertising. She is psychologically allergic to logo branding and is a canary in the coalmine for global trends. Add to this losing her intelligence community father to the New York attacks and we have a metaphor for our new age. Gibson goes one step further (perhaps what he had been planning to write prior to the attacks) and emphasizes the vacuum created by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the post-Cold War age. The global power brokers and players sometimes just changed uniforms and kept playing the games.

I missed a lot in my first reading but the demand for a re-visit was so rewarding. Gibson has given us a WEALTH of literary gold. This is a great book.

***2015 review


That’s what I am as I read Pattern Recognition by William Gibson. It is a very stylish novel.

Cool jazz plays in the cool and stylish café as I sit outside drinking a latte. From my perfectly coiffed hair to the form fitting jacket and slim pants to the stylish Italian shoes on my stylish feet, I am cool. A Daniel Craig pout forms on my lips as I nod to the Most Interesting Man in the World sitting across from me. He is sipping a Dos Equis and chatting with two models sitting on either side of him. All of us, we are all stylish and cool.

I turn page after stylish page but slowly my IMDB handsome brow creases, I frown.

“What – “

The Most Interesting Man in the World’s gut sags.

“ in the–“

The models sprout tattoos and one belches.

“ hell – “

My pants legs flare out and my perfectly coiffed doo melts to middle aged scalp.

“ am I reading??”

What are we doing? Where is this going? What in the hell is this book about?

William, I am a Southern United States middle-aged guy. If I stand up straight, I might not drag my knuckles across the floor when I walk. I need swords, laser blasters, and automatic gunfire or my attention wanes. Hell, man, you’re from South Carolina and lived in Virginia, you’ve seen me in the line at Piggly Wiggly – you had a bag of almonds and mineral water and I had a 12 pack of PBR and potato chips.

You gotta make it easy for me!!

But actually, I did like it, liked it a lot.

Gibson’s writing is fresh and vibrant and as cool as the other side of the pillow. Fans of his archetypal Neuromancer will pick up what he’s throwing down in this post-Cold War, post-911, corporate espionage, jet setting thriller set in London, New York, Tokyo and Russia. To readers who are swimming in the same atavistic gene pool as I am – just give it some time, he’ll get there and when he does, this will be revealed as tightly woven, extraordinarily entertaining post-cyberpunk literature of the highest order.

BTW, the way to read William Gibson (or Neal Stephenson or China Mieville) is with an E-book reader so that you can easily select a word for dictionary and thesaurus explanation. Vocabulary expanding.


Kevin Kelsey

Interesting enough, but nothing special. It is a nice sort of time capsule of the early 2000s, technologically speaking.

Bryce Wilson

It'll happen one day, you'll see. William Gibson WILL right an ending that resembles something other then a last ditch attempt from a man desperate not to default on his contract.

It will not stink of a man who has just watched the sunrise with a headful of Jack Daniels. No it will be thematically fufilling, and tie up and enrich the man threads that have wound through the novel like a tapestry. Giving these rich themes, imagery, and characters the proper glory rather then merely tarnishing everthin. It'll happen one day I'm telling you.

Sigh, but not this time.


I am an excellent reader, as I know many of my friends on goodreads are, but I don’t think there’s enough appreciation of reading as a skill in our world. We take it for granted, those of us who are “literate,” and because it is the base of the things that we learn, we tend to ignore those who excel. Of course, many of those who read well are told they “analyze things too much” or that they “dig too deep” by those who might be solid readers, but probably don’t have serious reading chops.

I think of it this way: the critics of analysis are the Sunday co-ed softball players who enjoy the game, like to escape for a few hours of exercise and fun, and like to hit the occasional home run or catch a tricky pop fly. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But for all the thousands of recreational ball players, there are a handful of professional ball players, whose skills are ever so much better (and whose skills stretch from Single A to the Big Leagues). They are the ones who get more from a hit, or a perfectly executed throw; they’re the ones who will stretch a double into a triple; they’re the ones who will take a fastball in the back rather than bail out of the box. And as readers go, they’re the ones who make the connections, who read the patterns that most people don't. They're the ones who analyze too much.

My reading of Pattern Recognition puts me in the category of the pro ball players. I loved the book on its own merits, and I know that I was able to read the merits in a way that others won’t be able to access. Many will, of course, and they will love what they've found, but there's plenty there for those who won't. And there is certainly nothing wrong with whatever reading those recreational players come up with.

Why do I feel this way? How can I say these things? Because I didn’t just read this book, I created it as I turned every page. I was part of the process; I wasn’t just reading someone else’s finished process; I was the final important element of the patterns William Gibson was laying out for connection. The book needed me, and those like me, to be complete. Every time this book is read by a talented reader, it is being written.

So there’s no point in really talking about the book's particulars. I’m not going to summarize the plot or point out specific moments of prose brilliance. I am not going to discuss the connections in the book. I am not going to talk about how personal this was to read. Just read it yourself. Make your own connections. Become part of the process of Pattern Recognition and let yourself analyze it, let yourself dig deep. And if you can’t do those things, you should still read it because I’m guessing it’s good enough for every level of play.


In this first book in the 'Blue Ant' series, marketing consultant Cayce Pollard is hired to find people who upload mysterious film clips.


New York resident Cayce Pollard is a marketing consultant who instinctively knows what the public will find 'cool'.

Cayce is also a follower of a website called 'Fetish Footage Forum' (FFF) where mysterious film clips - periodically published online - are discussed and analyzed by large numbers of people around the world.

As the story opens in August, 2002 Cayce is in London, having been hired by the 'Blue Ant' company to evaluate a proposed new shoe logo.

At a meeting with Hubertus Bigend - Blue Ant's boss, and Dorotea Benedetti - representative of the logo's designer, Cayce nixes the proposed logo. She also senses huge antagonism from Dorotea, a woman she's just met.

Soon afterward someone breaks into the London apartment where Cayce is staying, making her feel nervous and paranoid.

These unexplained occurrences remind Cayce of her missing father, Win Pollard, an intelligence agent who disappeared on September 11, 2001, when planes flew into the World Trade Center. Cayce and her mother have done all they can to find Win, with no success.

After Cayce okays a second proposed shoe logo, Hubertus hires her to find the makers of the inscrutable film footage on FFF. He apparently has a scheme to use the film clips to make money. Cayce reluctantly agrees to work with Hubertus, and during her search for the filmmaker Cayce meets an array of interesting people and travels between London, Japan and Russia.

Everywhere she goes, however, Cayce senses she's being followed, which seems to be proven when she's attacked in the street.

The book is chock full of engaging characters, starting with Cayce - who's 'allergic' to logos and cuts the labels off all her clothing and possessions. Other interesting characters include several FFF analysts, fetishists of old technology, a computer whiz who's supposed to help Cayce find the filmmaker, and more.

I enjoyed the book which essentially reads like a thriller, as Cayce rushes here and there to discover something that unknown (and hostile) 'others' also want to know. All this leads to an exciting and believable climax. Very good book, highly recommended.

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....

John Huizar

I love the way that William Gibson writes women. Gibson usually has both male and female protagonists in his books, who may or may not even see one another during the course of the story (the almost-but-never-quite is something he comes back to again and again). Regardless, his female characters are always as strong and capable as the men (and often more so). Cayce Pollard is a wonderful character, and I think that Gibson deftly avoided all the usual pitfalls of men writing female characters.

For instance, in this book there is no male character of even approximately equal importance to Cayce. And I like that. She seeks help from time to time, but ultimately, Cayce stands on her own. The book is nota love story. Well, not in anything like the traditional sense.

The plot of the book revolves around Cayce's attempts to track down the origin of mysterious video clips that have surfaced on the internet. The disjointed, nonsequential footage is almost always of a couple, walking, talking, kissing. No one knows who the couple is, where the footage is being shot, when it was shot, what sequence the clips are supposed to be viewed in, etc. The first clip footage was simply discovered uploaded to a video site several years before, and an underground following has tracked down and collected all of the subsequently released clips. Fans make their own compilations, putting the videos in the order they think they go.

Cayce is a member of one of these online fandoms, but her day job is as a consultant to advertising firms: she is able to 'know' somehow whether certain advertising approaches will be successful, which happens because the ones that are successful are able to tap into culture in a particular way that Cayce is aware of and sensitive to. One of these firms becomes interested in tracking down the origin of the footage as a way of discovering just how it is that something can become an underground sensation, and puts Cayce on the job.

I can't really say any more without ruining the story. But there are Gibson's usual array of fascinating secondary characters who manage to seem both completely human and completely unique. And there are strong existential themes throughout: what is it that comes of always experiencing emotion and touch at one remove (through the camera)? What is the ultimate effect on the photographer, and what is the effect on the audience? This book is an anthem of both unity and alienation.


It's entirely possible this is a great book.

I wouldn't know, however, because I made it one chapter into Pattern Recognition before I gave up (for the 2nd time) because it was literally the worst first chapter I've ever read in a published book. At least that I can remember reading. It's possible that some space aliens have been abducting me and forcing me to read alien-written books - which I assume have really bad first chapters - and then erasing my memory, all part of a ploy to guide humanity, via literature. That seems unlikely, but then if you had told me a reality TV star man-baby would have become president of the United States, I would have called that even more unlikely. Either way, here's my Pattern Recognition inspired guide on how to write a terrible first chapter:

NUMBER ONE: Make the prose so purple, so overwritten, that the reader's face is at risk of getting a tan, to such a degree that the ACA will classify the chapter as a possible carcinogen. I wish that my search for examples required me to go beyond the first page, but it doesn't. Here's the first sentence:

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

Ever-circling dire wolves of disrupted circadian rhythm you say?! That's, like, totes a reference to sleep being 'counting sheep!' Maybe a little Game of Thrones reference? Dire wolves, right. Winter is coming. Eh? Eh? Right? Yeah? Am I right? Well if I'm wrong, I don't wanna be right.

Here's the next sentence:

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.

Neuroscientists of the Caribbean: Awash in Limbic Tides, starring our hero Ben Carson and his side-kick Sam Harris. And 'all of the above'? I'm just gonna start throwing that into my lists. I like Old El Paso tacos, Premium Angus beef, Chiquita bananas, all of the above, and Count Chocula cereal.

Nothing at all in the German fridge, so new that its interior smells only of cold and long-chain monomers.

Long-chain monomers? Even if that made sense, it'd be an entirely pointless sensory detail since no human being associates 'long-chain monomers' with a smell. That'd be like saying, it smells only of 'black holes.' Do you know what that smells like? I don't. But 'long chain monomers' doesn't make sense anyway. When you combine monomers into a long-chain you get a POLYMER. If you google "Long chain monomers" half your hits are related to this book, like this mocking short.

She knows, now, absolutely, hearing the white noise that is London, that Damien's theory of jet lag is correct: that her mortal soul is leagues behind her, being reeled in on some ghostly umbilical cord down the vanished wake of the plane that brought her here, hundreds of thousands of feet above the Atlantic.

Hell, I kinda like this one when taken on its own, but I'm still on the first page here and when combined with everything else, it's much too much too much much too too choo choo COME ON, RIDE THE TRAIN, HEY, RIDE IT.

NUMBER TWO: Make so many name-drops, so many specific allusions that the reader can't decide whether your book is a book or a commercial:

It's not enough for something to be a fridge, or a lamp, or money, or tea, in Pattern Recognition('s first chapter). No it must be a GERMAN fridge. Or an ITALIAN floor lamp. It must be a "bag of some imported Californian tea substitute" and the "covers of paperbacks look like Australian money."

Then our German fridge is full of "two dry pucks of Weetabix..." and when our protagonist Cayce puts on clothes, we get, "a small boy's black Fruit Of The Loom T-shirt, thoroughly shrunken, a thin gray V-necked pullover purchased by the half-dozen from a supplier to New England prep schools, and a new oversized pair of black 501's, every trademark removed."

Every trademark removed, eh? THE IRONY.

After which she looks at her reflection and "grimaces at it, thinking for some reason of a boyfriend who'd insisted on comparing her to Helmut Newton's nude portrait of Jane Birkin."

Nice! Combine the art with the crass consumerism. That, my friends, is what we call JUXTAPOSITION.

And then the requisite Apple plug: "He won't allow decorators through the door unless they basically agree to not do that which they do, yet he holds on to this Mac for the way you can turn it upside down and remove its innards with a magic little aluminum handle."

And finishing, near the end, a combination of a bit of everything: "Still doing heels, she checks her watch, a Korean clone of an old-school Casio G-Shock, its plastic case sanded free of logos with a scrap of Japanese micro-abrasive."

I haven't seen such blatant product placement since Krispy Kreme's invasion of Power Rangers. Which is saying something, since I didn't even watch that movie.

NUMBER THREE: Make your first chapter completely devoid of any plot or plot hooks whatsoever!

I already gave you the first sentence. Here's the last one: "She drapes a pair of limp green foam pads over the foot rail, carefully positions her feet, lifts them on invisible stiletto heels, and begins her ten prehensiles."

OH DAMN CLIFFHANGER!!! Will she pull a muscle while doing pilates?! *bites nails* *edge of the seat*

No, but really, here's what happens in the first chapter: Cayce describes her non-lover Damien's empty, boring home. Then she makes tea and surfs the internet a bit. Then she takes a shower. Then she does pilates. THE END.

I'm not even joking! If someone held a contest for the 'Summary of the most boring first chapter ever,' that'd probably win it.

So, yeah. I've enjoyed the other Gibson books I've read, and this one might be great, too. But I'm not going to ever know because the first chapter is so horrendously bad that this happened Bradley Cooper throwing book out a window

Jamie Collins

This was my first William Gibson book, and I thought it was beautifully written, quite a literary novel. I liked the characters, and I liked the idea of Cayce being sensitive to trends and brands, and having a logo "allergy". I'm now contemplating scratching the logos off of everything I own.

Plot-wise, this isn't the most exciting book I've ever read. I was never bored, but the pacing was sedate, to say the least. The tone of the book was cool and deliberate - even the single fight scene followed by a chase seemed to move in slow motion. Still, it was a very readable, intriguing story, and I'll continue with the trilogy.

The weakest point of the novel for me was the mysterious "footage" that drives the plot. I was never drawn into the characters' fascination with it.


A fast-moving high-tech thriller.
Smart and engaging with just the right amount of mystery.