All Tomorrow's Parties
by William Gibson
Published by Putnam
277 pages, 1999
Buy it online
Reviewed by Sienna Powers
All Tomorrow's Parties is dark, cryptic and absolutely trademark Gibson. The sort of cyber tale that leaves you breathless and not quite sure exactly what happened, but riveted and satisfied nonetheless.
Part of William Gibson's magic is the literary sleight of hand that manages to convey motion and emotion without a lot of actual words. The result is studied unevenness with the reader bringing a lot of the actual content to a reading experience that's utterly unique.
He sees a beggar seated beneath a jeweler's windows. In those windows are small empty pedestals, formal absences of precious things, locked away now for the night. The beggar has wrapped his legs and feet in brown paper tape, and the effect is startlingly medieval, as though someone has partially sculpted a knight from office materials. The trim calves, the tapered toes, an elegance calling out for ribbons. Above the tape, the man is a blur, a spastic scribble, his being abraded by concrete and misfortune. He has become the color of pavement, his very race in question.
In All Tomorrow's Parties, we are once again in Gibson's undetermined-but-perhaps-not-that-distant future where society as we know it has run fairly amok while still being somewhat recognizable. Not for Gibson the eon's distance of Herbert's Dune world, Gibson's reality bears more resemblance to Escape from New York than it does to Arrakis.
Though All Tomorrow's Parties is no kind of sequel and can be read with pleasure independent of previous Gibson novels, regular readers will recognize several main characters this time out. Due to a drug he was given in his youth, Colin Laney -- who made his first Gibsonian appearance in Idoru -- is able to recognize "nodal points" in vast streams of information and can therefore sense new ends and new beginnings.
As All Tomorrow's Parties opens, Colin is living in a cardboard box in Tokyo, barely able to function as a human any longer, but knowing that some game is afoot and that it will be focused in the San Francisco area. Specifically, on the Golden Gate bridge that -- due to a major earthquake that made the structure not stable enough for road traffic -- has become a small city on its own. More: it's an autonomous zone not governed by police or other agencies and the people that live and work there have devised their own methods of western justice and their own rude but working society.
Colin arranges for cop-book-dropout Barry Rydell -- who was featured in Virtual Light -- to do the footwork that really amounts to being Colin's legs in the real world: sort of a grass roots avatar, if you will. Rydell is a good character. In a world of imbalances, you know that Barry is solid. Despite some character flaws and a disastrous personal history, you know that he's someone who can be relied on. From that disastrous history, we again meet Chevette, who appeared with Rydell in Virtual Light. In All Tomorrow's Parties she's on the bridge -- sort of her hometown -- on her own business when she once again meets up with Rydell. Just in time, in many ways, to save him from a world of hurt.
From Idoru, we meet the Idoru herself once again. Rei Toi is a computer-generated "idol singer" who came close to marrying a human rock star in Idoru but who now perhaps holds the key to whatever is happening on the bridge in San Francisco.
With so many overlapping characters, it might be said that Virtual Light, Idoru and All Tomorrow's Parties form a sort of loose trilogy, though the plotlines in all three novels are quite independent of each other and you don't need to have read either of the previous two to be in on the action in this latest book. What is required, however, is the willingness to enter another of Gibson's well drawn worlds and spend some time with his powerful prose. It's a trip worth taking. | February 2000
SIENNA POWERS is a transplanted Calgarian who lives and works in Vancouver, B.C. She is a writer and conceptual artist.