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William Gibson, All Tomorrow’s Parties

G.P. Putnam's Son's. 278 pp. $34.99.
Reviewed by Dogulas Barbour

With All Tomorrow’s Parties, William Gibson has completed his second trilogy, one which, unlike the Neuromancer trilogy that made his reputation in the 1980s, he has constructed with such subtlety and narrative occultation, that most of us probably didn’t see it coming. We might call this the ŒBridge Trilogy’ as one of its central icons is the San Francisco Bay Bridge turned into a kind of squatters city on the margins of society. But there are other possible titles, depending upon which of its many recurring characters a reader might decide to focus. During the 1990s, Gibson has slowly moved his writing away from its original cyberpunk sensibility toward a strangely humane contemporary vision, but he continues to demonstrate a mastery of pop culture bricolage and an ability both to utilize and to undermine the conventions of the subgenre he helped to create. As always, he has created a great entertainment.

All Tomorrow’s Parties continues Gibson apparent project to domesticate, and assess the banality of, what our various futurists believe the net (cyberspace-to-be) will become. Thus Laney, the man with a talent for finding all the nodal points of information in a mass of electronic data, has disappeared into the bowels of a Tokyo underground station to pursue what he perceives as the coming change, the end of the world as we know it. Slowly dying, he contacts Rydell, the ex-policeman who first got him the job that put him in touch with the Idoru of Gibson’s last novel.

Meanwhile, some of the characters first seen in Virtual Light begin to congregate in San Francisco, where death pursues some, fame runs from others, and nothing is what it seems. Gibson continues his process if running a number of different narratives side by side, and slowly allowing them to merge in surprising and complicated ways.

Gibson’s first novel, Neuromancer, was a vital, witty, and exhilarating mixture of noir romanticism, technological extrapolation, genuine sf transcendence, and gritty Chandleresque descriptions of futuristic cityscapes in both the Œreal’ and the Œvirtual’ worlds. As his next few novels demonstrated, his radar is pretty good; in them he posited a world where the nation state slowly disappeared, replaced by international corporations so large they have their own armies, in which individuals had to find some very small niches to evade the controls imposed from above, and which was completely dominated by consumerism. Still, there was room for adventure, at least for those lucky enough to become protagonists in a cyberpunk fiction.

Beginning with Virtual Light, however, Gibson turned to a nearer future, and attempted to present the usual suspect outsiders with a certain degree of freedom of action. In it, he also created one of the great images of recent sf: the human collage of that bridge in San Francisco, now become a city set apart. That ludic structure (based on Kowloon Walled City) existed in the Œreal’ world, but in Idoru, Gibson erected another one, called "The Walled City," in the virtual world, a space where those who continue evading the system can live, at least part of the time.

With All Tomorrow’s Parties, Gibson brings the high rollers and the small folk, the Idoru, now working with Laney to prevent the rich and powerful from absolutely controlling the change, which seems to involve nanotechnology. It is interesting that during the 1990s, there have been novels full of nanotechnology and some novels still dealing wholly with cyberspace: what Gibson seems to be trying here is to narrate the moment when the paradigm will shift.

As the final novel in a sequence, All Tomorrow’s Parties does answer many questions raised in the earlier two books, but it leaves many others in their place. Still, despite the fact that traditional human relationships don’t seem to belong in the late-capitalist technophilic futures Gibson constructs in these novels, they do hold out some humanistic possibility, however uncool that may be. Fear, hatred, some possibility of love, certain kinds of outlaw honour still count, and they are the hinges upon which his latest complicated tale turns.

All Tomorrow’s Parties has all the Gibson trademarks. It is full of sly cultural allusions, witty asides, and striking, electric prose. Gibson has the knack of creating various cultural dialects that sound right, and his characters have presence. All Tomorrow's Parties is both fun to read and provocative to consider. If you're already a fan, you'll want it and it won’t disappoint. If you have yet to encounter the special flavour of his futures, All Tomorrow’s Parties offers a stimulating taste.

Douglas Barbour

Read Another Review of Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties
(by Barry Hammond)

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