by Pat Cadigan
Published by Tor
207 pages, 1999
Buy it online
The Seduction of the Story
Reviewed by Claude Lalumière
I first came across Pat Cadigan's work in Donald Wollheim's The 1988 Annual World's Best SF. It was a superlative anthology filled with memorable stories, and Cadigan's "Angel" was one of the stand-outs. The prose sang, every word contributing to a mesmerizing melody that ensnared me into its painful, sad world. The mood and atmosphere never wavered, enveloping a harrowing tale of unlikely love and harsh beauty that described the symbiotic relationship between an alien (the angel of the title) and a young human. This story had everything to seduce me: bizarre characters, vivid emotions, strange ideas, mythic archetypes adapted to a science fiction setting, genderbending, and prose almost too beautiful to bear.
Patterns collects 14 of Pat Cadigan's stories, not all of which measure up to the standards of "Angel." Three of them, despite their catchy titles, are so unremarkable that I forgot all about them as soon as I turned the page to start the next story ("Patterns," "Vengeance Is Yours," "The Day the Martels Got the Cable"); three others are too cliché to be interesting ("Eenie, Meenie, Ipsateenie," "Two," "It Was the Heat"); "My Brother's Keeper" is competent but not exceptional; "Roadside Rescue" and "Heal" are pleasantly wicked and clever; "Rock On" and "Pretty Boy Crossover" adroitly demonstrate the author's high-density cyber-decadence; "Another One Hits the Road" is fascinatingly bizarre; and, finally, the sublime "Angel" and "The Power and the Passion" are perfectly sculpted jewels. In other words: no awful stories, six stories that failed to leave a mark, one average tale, and seven excellent and diverse stories. Usually, that should add up to a pretty enjoyable read. But despite the good fiction, Patterns felt like an unrewarding reading experience. It's only once I re-examined its contents for review that I realized that I had liked so much of it. So why the bad impression?
The book is introduced by Cadigan's cyberpunk cohort, Bruce Sterling. In his typical hyperbolic Ellisonian style, he shouts the author's praises so highly that unless the book that follows is the most explosive and heart-shattering book ever published, no reader can be anything but let down. Strike one.
Cadigan herself introduces each story. I'm interested in the creative process and I usually like to read authors discussing their work -- unless, as here, all that I learn is that the author is infatuated with her own smug cleverness. Strike two.
The first noteworthy story is fifth on the contents list. After four lackluster tales in a row, it's difficult to shake the impression that this is a boring book; the good stories (mostly bunched up at the back) end up seeming like exceptions. Ball one.
So not quite a strike-out... on the strength of seven excellent stories.
Above, I outlined what made "Angel" such a successful story; it and the other six stories I enjoyed in this book, no matter how different they may be from each other, all share one characteristic: strength of voice. Not the same voice: each of those stories is told in a distinctive voice that is itself an essential part of the story. The voice reveals something about the main character, the setting, or the atmosphere that could not be conveyed as well any other way. It creates a sensual cocoon that wraps readers into its world, making it easier to ignore the distracting stimuli of quotidian reality while exploring Cadigan's imagination. The other seven stories -- those that didn't impress me -- lack this dimension; they are told in a generic, artless voice and do not showcase what can make Cadigan such a good writer.
Readers of Cadigan's novels -- all of which are written in the cyberpunk mode for which she is best known -- won't be disappointed with the two cyberpunk tales in this collection. Both "Rock On" and "Pretty Boy Crossover" read like a jumble of decaying MTV videos melting into each other and are packed with ideas, attitude, neologisms, and hard-boiled fragility.
There's much that's worth discovering in Patterns. Skip the introductions and the first four stories and you'll be jumping right into the good stuff. | October 1999
Claude Lalumière -- a freelance writer, editor and translator -- is the founder and former owner of Montreal's Nebula Bookshop. His book reviews, essays, and articles can be found on his Web site.