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Canadian sf Reviews by Barry Hammond

All Tomorrow’s Parties

by William Gibson ISBN 0-399-14579-6

When reading William Gibson’s Virtual Light (1993) and Idoru (1996) I wasn’t aware that he was making a trilogy. Both books seemed complete in themselves and were separate stories. After finishing his new book, All Tomorrow’s Parties, however, it’s hard not to see them as a trio. Three of the characters from Virtual Light, the rent-a-cop Berry Rydell, (former) bike messenger Chevette Washington, and Fontaine from the squatter community on the Bay Bridge, are in the new book as are three characters from Idoru: the Idoru herself, Rei Toei, virtual media star; Colin Laney, who can deduce subtle patterns from information flow, and Mr. Yamazaki, the existential sociologist. He may, in fact, do more than these three books, but All Tomorrow’s Parties has the feel of returning to these character’s stories in order to complete and conclude them.

Colin Laney has decided that something extraordinary is going to happen in San Francisco just past the Millennium. It’s what he calls a nodal point in history, a time which changes forever anything which comes after it. He can see the convergence coming in the oceans of data he surfs every day. Since he’s both sick and on the run, he gets Yamazaki to send Berry Rydell, who’s recently lost his job with the Singapore Lucky Dragon convenience modules, to be his man on the ground there. There are others who will be affected by what he sees as well. There is Harwood, a millionaire mover and shaker, who also believes change is coming. He wants to maintain his position of influence and is willing to kill as many people as necessary to ensure this objective. There is Chevette, who is on the run from a new abusive boyfriend and seems to be on a crash course with Rydell, the man she used to love. There is also Silencio, a mute street boy, who has a photographic memory and a passion for antique watches, who moves in with Fontaine. Rei Toei, the first completely virtual star, who still wants to be human, is on her way as well. The collision of these characters is about to change history and everybody, it seems, wants a piece of the new pie, including Tessa, Chevette’s friend and documentary video artist, and a band of hackers from a secret cyber retreat called The Walled City.

This is Gibson’s most cinematic novel to date. Although Hollywood has flirted with Gibson before, paying him to write an unused script for Alien 3 and trying somewhat unsuccessfully to evoke his world in Johnny Mnemonic, they’re crazy and stupid if they don’t option this book for a film. It’s got juicy parts for actors of every sex, age and race, plenty of suspense, lots of nasty physical action with guns and knives, and a climax that involves major use of fire and water, two staples of the movie industry.

For all that, it is still a classic Gibson novel. Like his character, Laney, what Gibson is really good at is visualizing and defining trends. I mean trends as in the general tendencies and inclinations of human beings, the visual and aural clues which define motive, character, and place in history, not "trendy" in the shallow sense. Gibson is obsessed with fashion also, but he uses it like a reverse archaeologist. Instead of studying buildings, fabrics, costumes, artifacts and utensils to define an historical people, he builds up these details to make telling comments on our future.

It is this quality, what I call nostalgia for the future, that separates him from other writers in the field. He’s a collector, with an eye like one the best appraisers on the Antiques Roadshow, able to define what an object is, give it’s provenance, or spot a fake, and put a price on it, only the artifacts he collects with his writing are indicators of what society may become.

I read his books for the same reason people watch the Antiques Roadshow, too. You see many interesting, beautiful, and valuable things, learn a little bit about them and their place in history, and maybe think that some commonplace thing you have in your own world might turn out to be valuable or important down the road.

They’re also like espionage novels, industrial espionage in his case. They’re always about small, fairly ordinary people, usually on the fringe of society, caught in a web of deadly political events, with only their good hearts and small talents between them and destruction.

All Tomorrow’s Parties is another significant artifact in Gibson’s display case of the future. - Barry Hammond.

Read Another review of Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties
(by Douglas Barbour)

Go to William Gibson entry in Author Listings.

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