It was a strange experience. During the book's first half, I was completely in love with every sentence, to the point where I would try describing it to friends, starting in pretension and eventually sliding into incoherence. (I think I managed to avoid using phrases like "the human condition," but only barely.) It was thrilling to watch Gibson deploy the same skills he used to convince readers of Neuromancer's future, but this time to tour London and the Internet, circa 2002, through the eyes of a character who sees the patterns of popular culture more intensely and vividly than we do.
But as the story approached its end, it seemed to deflate, to move (to borrow John Clute's criticism of the sequel Spook Country) into a "time out" from "the felt chaos of the world." When I closed the book, I thought, "Well, that was ... fine." I would absolutely recommend it, because it's an ambitious, partially successful work from a formidably talented writer, but, unlike Neuromancer, I don't think it will stick with me.
There are a couple of problems here. For one, Gibson spends too much time running through the plot, which is perfectly fine as plots go, but one that's considerably less interesting than his exploration of setting and character. And as is almost always the case, the answering of questions (Who created the mysterious footage that haunts the first half of the book, and why?) feels like a let down compared to the mystery itself, no matter how clever those answers are.
I wonder if my real complaint is with the model that Gibson has chosen. Neuromancer, famously, was based on film noir and hard-boiled detective fiction, specifically The Big Sleep. Judging from Gibson's recent comments on Neuromancer, he may have started chafing against some of the clichés and limitations of the noir mode, but that doesn't mean Pattern Recognition breaks free from all generic models. In its globetrotting, its blank-check expense-account that finances said globetrotting, and in its final determination to tie up all plot threads, the book behaves like a techno-thriller, albeit one that's more realistic than anything by Tom Clancy or Michael Crichton.
Cliched though they may be, I can't help but prefer the rain-soaked, neon-bathed endings of Neuromancer and stories like "Burning Chrome" to the clear-as-day, let-me-explain resolution of Pattern Recognition. In their melancholy way, they give a sense of a world that remains open, rather than a book that has shut.