- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 23, 2003

Having coined the term "cyberspace," William Gibson has long since established his credentials as a prophet of the information age. His novels have dwelt in the customary literary domain of science fiction, the future. Apparently, in the wake of September 11, contemporary life is sufficiently astounding to serve as a setting for his latest foray into fantasy, Pattern Recognition (Putnam, $25.95, 368 pages).
It is a tale about the denizens of the Internet, those who surf the matrix of information that creates and destroys institutions of human interaction with increasing rapidity. Cayce Pollard is one of these, and Cayce knows cool. She is queen of market research, divining trends in social and cultural patterns that big business pays big bucks for to move their products. Recently, a series of mysterious video fragments have materialized on the Internet that is turning heads around the world. She is hired by a hip ad agency to trace the footage to its source.
But with the images of September 11 just a year old, these video images of a young couple embracing, then disappearing in a flash of light, touch off feelings of dread. The deeper Cayce delves into the source of the video, the more convinced she becomes that the images are more than a clever marketing gimmick. They spur widespread Internet chatter evoking fear of globalization and terrorism.
Cayce is the daughter of a Cold War intelligence agent and she realizes that suspicion is in her genes. But bad things have happened: her father was near the World Trade Towers when they fell missing and presumed dead. Her computer is hacked when the London apartment of a friend she is visiting is burglarized.
Is her growing suspicion about the source of the video a case of pattern recognition, or paranoia? Cayce's quest takes her from London to Tokyo and Russia in search of techno-geeks who can help her sort fact from fear.
William Gibson's customary coin is a world roiled by the impact of technology run amok. "Pattern Recognition," with its contemporary setting, seems to suggest that as the 21st century unwinds, why put off until tomorrow anxiety about the future? The future is already here, and so is the anxiety.

The Omega Expedition (Tor, $27.95, 544 pages) is Brian Stableford's sixth and final installment of his Future History series. Aptly named, the story charts the conclusion to a thousand-year era of human development that culminates in the holy grail of scientific discovery, immortality.
The story's narrator, Madoc Tamlin, is the reader's eyes and ears for this journey through time. Madoc is an unsavory henchman for Earth's rulers in the 21st century. He and the notorious Christine Caine, a mass murderer, have the privilege of outliving their antagonists, thanks to the handiwork of longevity godfather Adam Zimmerman. The three are frozen down like human Popsicles and sleep in suspended animation until they are thawed out in the 33rd century. Zimmerman thus completes his quest for immortality, which he dubs "emortality" to denote the endless cycle of life that is nevertheless still subject to accidental death.
Tamlin, Zimmerman and Caine find themselves among the inhabitants of an artificial "microworld" in deep space. But trouble bedevils this man-made paradise and the newly-thawed discover that the future is not what it used to be. The trio rocket back toward Earth only to be hijacked by one of the intelligent machines that now manipulates planetary civilization. To endure their incarceration, they are forced to survive the old-fashioned way: though cunning and instinct.
Brian Stableford presents a masterful finale to his musings on the impact of science on the human being both the improvable and the immutable.

The nexus of man and beast reappears in Timothy Zahn's latest novel, Dragon and Thief (Tor, $24.95, 288 pages). A symbiosis between a human and a manta ray provided the literary hook for last year's Manta's Gift. His new book features a similar conjoining this time of human protagonist and dragon.
Jack Morgan is a marked man. Accused of theft, he has sought refuge on a distant planet as he considers how to clear his name. A battle high in the sky overhead sends a ship crashing to the ground near his hideout. The sole survivor is a creature resembling a dragon.
He finds that the thing will die within six hours unless it is allowed to join in symbiosis with a human host. In an act of altruism that would win him an award from the ASPCA, he hooks up with the beast. Henceforth, they are Jack and not Jill, but Draycos.
Draycos is a K'da, a dragon-like species that normally lives biologically fused with humanoids, the Shontine. United in their struggle for survival, the pair must discover who framed Jack as a thief and who is attacking Draycos and his "people." In doing so, they also learn that their peculiar union is more than just coincidence.
It doesn't take an animal lover to be entertained by Timothy Zahn's story, but it helps. Here's hoping he doesn't get any ideas about snakes or rats.

Coincidently, it takes a thief for Sharon Lee and Steve Miller to present their new space-based tale, The Tomorrow Log (Meisha Merlin, $30.00, 352 pages).
Gem ser'Edreth is appropriately named, for he really takes a shine to collectibles of great value. His sticky-fingered reputation has brought him to the attention of the planet's crime boss, who wants him to pilfer a rare artifact, the Bildalche Trident, which legend says contains much power.
At the same time, Gem is approached by Corbinye Faztherot, a cousin he never met who knows his life-long secret that his true identity is Anjemalti Kristefyon. She believes, to his dismay, that he is much more than a thief, but the descendant of a line of starship captains. Further, she insists that his life is foretold in the log of an ancient starship, the Tomorrow Log. It tells of one who would come forward to pilot his people's starship to safety.
The convergence of folktale and Trident, however, soon convince Gem that there are mysterious forces at work around him beyond his control. Finding the Trident and discovering its power might alter the course of history if he's not killed in the process.

Frank Perley is articles editor for the Commentary section of The Washington Times.



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