The Barnes & Noble Review
Virtual Confrontation From the beginning of his career, William Gibson's fiction has dealt with the emerging interface between human beings and the furiously evolving field of information technology. His famous first novel, Neuromancer, popularized the concept of cyberspace and provided an entire generation of science fiction writers with a working model of the digitized society that is just around the corner. With All Tomorrow's Parties, his sixth and latest solo novel, Gibson reaffirms his position as the prose poet of the information age, giving us a complex, densely imagined portrait of a near-future society poised on the edge of a profound and mysterious change.
All Tomorrow's Parties is the concluding volume in a loosely connected trilogy that began six years ago with Virtual Light and continued, three years later, with Idoru. In the world of these novels, the millennium has come and gone, leaving in its wake an America that is battered and balkanized but still essentially itself. As the new novel opens, Colin Laney digital prognosticator and protagonist of Idoru has come to the conclusion that larger, more fundamental changes are on the way and will shortly put an end to the governing paradigms of the early 21st century.
Laney is one of Gibson's most unique creations, a man who was subjected to an illegal drug experiment as a child and who has since developed a singular talent: He can immerse himselfinanonymous streams of data and identify what he calls the "nodal points," the crucial turning points in the lives of individuals and in the histories of entire societies. All Tomorrow's Parties concerns Laney's ongoing attempts to understand the nature of the massive new nodal point he believes is imminent and to prevent, if possible, a dimly perceived series of post-millennial catastrophes.
Although he knows very few things for certain, Laney believes that California will be the starting point for the forthcoming change. He therefore contacts an old acquaintance named Berry Rydell a hard-luck ex-policeman and the hero of Virtual Light and sends him to San Francisco to act as his agent-in-place. Laney also believes that the prime mover behind this unspecified change will be billionaire industrialist Cody Harwood, whose "signature" appears over and over again in the oceans of data that surround the nodal point. Subsequent investigation reveals that, years before, Harwood had voluntarily subjected himself to the same experimental drug that gave Laney his peculiar ability; that Harwood is himself capable of discerning the nodal points in the world's data stream; and that he has spent years manipulating events in order to insure himself a dominant position in the reconfigured world, a world whose essence will be altered by the new technologies that Harwood himself will sponsor and control.
The resulting drama which is, in effect, a no-holds-barred struggle for the soul of the future is played out against an array of brilliantly realized settings, some actual (such as the Bridge, a squatter's haven built on the ruins of the structurally damaged San Francisco/Oakland Bridge) and some virtual (such as the vast, multifaceted Walled City, a gigantic software construct built and maintained by outlaw hackers who have effectively seceded from the human mainstream).
Characters caught up in the drama are likewise divided along physical and virtual lines. Included among them are Virtual Light's Chevette Washington, the former bicycle messenger who was once Berry Rydell's lover; Silencio, a damaged, perhaps autistic adolescent with an uncanny ability to find his way through the unmapped regions of cyberspace; Shinyu Yamazaki, existential sociologist and perennial student of 21st century culture; and, most centrally, Rei Toei, the Idoru of Gibson's previous novel, a beautiful, artificially intelligent entity who is described as "a sea of code, the ultimate expression of entertainment software." Rei Toei is a new order of being, a constantly evolving artifact of the digital age, and she will play a pivotal role in the climactic confrontation with Cody Harwood.
All Tomorrow's Parties is typical, top-level Gibson: elegant, alternately hard-edged, and dreamlike, filled with the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of a future that is at once deeply familiar and intensely strange. As in all of Gibson's work, the brilliance of the book lies in its extraordinary sense of detail. There are no throwaway moments in this novel, no poorly constructed sentences, no vague or imprecise descriptions. Gibson pays attention to everything, from the "interstitial" societies of the decaying urban wilderness to the gaudy technological marvels of the virtual world. The result is a believable, frightening, and thoroughly imagined portrait of the shifting realities of post-millennial America. All Tomorrow's Parties is William Gibson at his visionary best, and it comes highly recommended. Anyone with an interest in contemporary science fiction or in literate, intelligent, exploratory fiction of any sort needs to read this book.
Bill Sheehan reviews horror, suspense, and science fiction for Cemetery Dance, The New York Review of Science Fiction, and other publications. At the Foot of the Story Tree, his book-length critical study of the fiction of Peter Straub, will be published by Subterranean Press in the spring of 2000.
William Gibson is so secure in his status as a prophet of the digital age that it's easy to forget he's been publishing novels for just 15 years -- about as long as the Apple Macintosh has been around. But the computer revolution is all the history Gibson needs for his books; he combines it with old-fashioned notions of character and suspense and skews his novels hyperkinetically forward in time. A futurist who plays games with the present, Gibson imbues his stories with elements of technology both recognizable and unfathomable.
In his first novel, Neuromancer, he explored the "consensual hallucination" of cyberspace (he coined the word himself, in a 1981 short story), navigated by hackers and elegant forms of artificial intelligence who appear as ghosts in the machine. Idoru (1996) is set in 21st century Tokyo, where Rez, the lead singer in a rock band, becomes engaged to a pop singer named Rei Toei, a synthetic "idoru" simulated holographically by software agents. Rez's personal security detail hires Net runner Colin Laney, who can detect obscure patterns in electronic data and thereby predict aspects of the future, to ease their worries about the strange nuptials.
In his new novel, All Tomorrow's Parties, Gibson taps the vein of our cultural angst where it runs nearest to the surface: millennialism. He returns here to Colin Laney and Rei Toei, as well as to characters from 1993's Virtual Light, which, like All Tomorrow's Parties, is set in NoCal and SoCal (the two states that formerly constituted California) in the not too distant future. In his now familiar collision-course style, Gibson hurtles his cast toward San Francisco and the "cusp of some unprecedented potential for change" -- the kind of widespread social disruption everyone had expected way back at the turn of the millennium.
Something in the air here points toward the lawless and decentralized distant future Gibson envisioned in Neuromancer, in which "the multinationals that shaped the course of human history had transcended old barriers. Viewed as organisms, they had attained a kind of immortality." This novel is about the end of the world as we know it. Laney is still in Tokyo, strung out on data and living in a cardboard box in a subway station. He can sense that something big is about to happen. But all he is sure of is that it involves the famously famous Cody Harwood -- a "twenty-first century synthesis of Bill Gates and Woody Allen" -- and that he has to stop him from attaining his nefarious (if obscure) goal.
Writing at flame intensity, Gibson conjures a world that seems just a breath away from the here and now. All Tomorrow's Parties fits into his unfolding story of the next century, a time of darkness and decaying cities. A sense of claustrophobia permeates the book, with characters living in boxes, coffin-like rooms and vans. The motif of transition -- of being between things, or "interstitial," as one character puts it -- runs through the tale, which builds to a climax literally between two cities, amid the ruins of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which has been closed to traffic after a massive earthquake (the "Little Big One") and transformed into a rundown bazaar.
Gibson has trouble making his endings as vivid and precise as all the details leading up to them, and All Tomorrow's Parties suffers in this respect. The ultimate conflict has to do with introducing nanotechnology -- a manufacturing process on the molecular level -- to the mass market. In the real world, nanotech is actually being researched and developed, by the Pentagon among others. Outrunning the future can be tough in the digital age. You have to hand it to Gibson for managing, once more, to stay at least one step ahead.
More ultra-cool cyberpunk, sort of a sequel to Virtual Light (1993) and Idoru (1996). The disasters predicted for the end of the millennium never happened. This familiar, vigorous, vividly realized scenario is set forth in the author's unique and astonishing textured prose -- indeed, in Gibson's book the texture is the plot -- but the unfathomable ending will satisfy.
From the Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1999
All the heroes in All Tomorrow's Parties wield knives. Chevette, the onetime bike messenger and second-best thing in William Gibson's 1993 Virtual Light, has one hammered from a motorcycle drive chain. Rydell, former cop, night watchman, and now convenience store security guy, sports a lightweight ceramic knife, although he doesn't much like its balance. And the mysterious Konrad, the man who kills without fuss or muss, brandishes the deadliest blade, the one "that sleeps head down, like a vampire bat."
So many sharp knives slice elegantly through the virtual realities and nanotechnological macguffins that populates Gibson's latest novel. And appropriately so. When Gibson, one of science fiction's greatest literary stylists, is at his best, he offers visceral detail ("helicopters swarming like dragonflies") even when promising transcendent change ("the mother of all nodal points" -- a moment in the near future when the fabric of daily life will twist profoundly).
Gibson wouldn't be Gibson if he spelled it out, if he eliminated all the ambiguity. His specialty is hanging on to that fractal edge without ever going over the brink.
VOYA - Voya Reviews
Sick and hiding out in a cardboard carton in the Tokyo subway, Laney analyzes data streams, which he accesses through a cyber interface. He senses the approach of a pivotal node in history, shaped by a confluence of events that will take place in post-earthquake San Francisco. He needs a man on the ground, and he hires an ex-cop named Rydell. At the same time, a very rich man named Harwood similarly is attuned to approaching change. Harwood's goal is simple--to organize change for his personal benefit, regardless of the cost. On the Bay Bridge, closed now to all but pedestrian traffic and home to an assorted culture of drifters and entrepreneurs, many characters play their parts in a complex drama that culminates in a conflagration. Harwood's manipulations fail; many profit, but he is a major loser. Master of a pointillist style, Gibson offers a brilliant moving picture of an often-bleak future world in which virtual and actual blur and merge. His characterization is masterly, and his intricate plot demands--and rewards--concentration. Here is a story that seduces readers with the notion that today's science fiction might indeed be tomorrow's reality. It will delight sophisticated cyber fans and sci-fi readers. VOYA CODES: 4Q 2P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 1999, Putnam's, Ages 16 to Adult, 278p, $24.95. Reviewer: Rayna Patton
Roused from his self-imposed isolation in Tokyo, cyberjock Colin Laney enlists the aid of freelance security cop Berry Rydell to investigate a series of postmillennial upheavals centered in San Francisco. Building on the story begun in Idoru, Gibson achieves another milestone in his stunning portrayal of a dystopic 21st century filled with virtual paradises and real-life squalor. A master of the cyberpunk genre, Gibson excels at visually exciting storytelling. A good selection for sf collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/99.] Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Internet Book Watch
Surrealistic images of darkness, an uncertain set of friendships, and inner city urban landscapes changed by violence and confrontation make for a futuristic story of change. Gibson's poetic voice shines in these contrasts between night and day, light and dark personalities in a changing world.
Internet Book Watch
Paul Di Filippo
In a move similar to what Tim Powers pulled off in his last three books, Gibson uses All Tomorrow's Parties (its Velvet Underground-inspired title faithfully conveying some of its rock-n-roll energy) to fuse the seperate casts and themes of Virtual Light and Idoru. (Only the naively charming and spunky Chia is missing from the new book.) He reveals what we perceived as two seperate adventures pivot around a common center, and that that center is a kind of singularity into which human culture is poised to fall...
Despite a satisfying conclusion whose highlight involves thousands of naked copies of certain women surreally stepping from a legion of convenience-store nano-dispensers, Gibson seems to leave the door open for another of these wild tomorrow parties, which will go straight to the top of my social calendar.
Science Fiction Age
New York Times Book Review
Gibson remains, like Raymond Chandler, an intoxicating stylist.
In its own quiet, powerful way, All Tomorrow's Parties functions as a solid novel distinct from genre designations. SF? Well sure. But it also reads like a contemporary novel of its own time and setting.
Proof that post-modern doesn't have to be arid or unintelligible.
William Gibson has done it again...it's still a pleasure to revisit Gibson's seductively gloomy vision of the future.
Time Out New York
Washington Post Book World
All Tomorrow's Parties is immensely engaging, alive on every page and as enjoyable a weekend entertainment as one could want.
One of science fiction's greatest literary stylists.
The postmodern gospel according to Gibson, the patron saint of cyberpunk literature.
More ultra-cool cyberpunk, sort of a sequel to Virtual Light (1993) and Idoru (1996). The disasters predicted for the end of the millennium never happened. Colin Laney, however, has a peculiar talent for seeing ordinarily imperceptible data associations, or nodal points, an ability brought about by childhood exposure to an experimental drug. Now down-and-out in Tokyo, subsisting on blue cough syrup and stimulants, he's perceived an upcoming event that will change the world, just as the previous one did in 1911. Aware of a shadowy killer who leaves no traces in the Net, Laney contacts his old pal, former rent-a-cop Berry Rydell, in San Francisco, sending him money and a mysterious package. Others are drawn into Laney's virtual world: the weird, watch-loving boy Silencio; erstwhile motorbike messenger Chevette Washington; the mysterious inhabitants of the virtual Walled City; and industrialist Cody Harwood, who's dosed himself with Laney's drug and in effect is creating the node. Harwood plans to build a network of nanotech replicators, presently forbidden by most governments. Rydell's package is a projector containing the virtual personality, or idoru, Rei Toei. Harwood's shadowy assassin, Konrad, refuses to kill Rydell, and the characters converge at the Bay Bridge for a conclusion that's as strange as it is baffling. This familiar, vigorous, vividly realized scenario is set forth in the author's unique and astonishingly textured proseindeed, in Gibson's books the texture is the plotbut the unfathomable ending will satisfy few. (Author tour)
Read an Excerpt
1. Cardboard City
Through this evening's tide of faces unregistered, unrecognized, amid hurrying black shoes, furled umbrellas, the crowd descending like a single organism into the station's airless heart, comes Shinya Yamazaki, his notebook clasped beneath his arm like the egg case of some modest but moderately successful marine species.
Evolved to cope with jostling elbows, oversized Ginza shopping bags, ruthless briefcases, Yamazaki and his small burden of information go down into the neon depths. Toward this tributary of relative quiet, a tiled corridor connecting parallel escalators.
Central columns, sheathed in green ceramic, support a ceiling pocked with dust-furred ventilators, smoke detectors, speakers. Behind the columns, against the far wall, derelict shipping cartons huddle in a ragged train, improvised shelters constructed by the city's homeless. Yamazaki halts, and in that moment all the oceanic clatter of commuting feet washes in, no longer held back by his sense of mission, and he deeply and sincerely wishes he were elsewhere.
He winces, violently, as a fashionable young matron, features swathed in Chanel micropore, rolls over his toes with an expensive three-wheeled stroller. Blurting a convulsive apology, Yamazaki glimpses the infant passenger through flexible curtains of some pink-tinted plastic, the glow of a video display winking as its mother trundles determinedly away.
Yamazaki sighs, unheard, and limps toward the cardboard shelters. He wonders briefly what the passing commuters will think, to see him enter the carton fifth from the left. It is scarcely the height of his chest, longer than the others, vaguely coffin-like, a flap of thumb-smudged white corrugate serving as its door.
Perhaps they will not see him, he thinks. Just as he himself has never seen anyone enter or exit one of these tidy hovels. It is as though their inhabitants are rendered invisible in the transaction that allows such structures to exist in the context of the station. He is a student of existential sociology, and such transactions have been his particular concern.
And now he hesitates, fighting the urge to remove his shoes and place them beside the rather greasy-looking pair of yellow plastic sandals arranged beside the entrance flap on a carefully folded sheet of Parco gift wrap. No, he thinks, imagining himself waylaid within, struggling with faceless enemies in a labyrinth of cardboard. Best he not be shoeless.
Sighing again, he drops to his knees, the notebook clutched in both hands. He kneels for an instant, hearing the hurrying feet of those who pass behind him. Then he places the notebook on the ceramic tile of the station's floor and shoves it forward, beneath the corrugate flap, and follows it on his hands and knees.
He desperately hopes that he has found the right carton.
He freezes there in unexpected light and heat. A single halogen fixture floods the tiny room with the frequency of desert sunlight. Unventilated, it heats the space like a reptile's cage.
"Come in," says the old man, in Japanese. "Don't leave your ass hanging out that way." He is naked except for a sort of breechclout twisted from what may once have been a red T-shirt. He is seated, cross-legged, on a ragged, paint-flecked tatami mat. He holds a brightly colored toy figure in one hand, a slender brush in the other. Yamazaki sees that the thing is a model of some kind, a robot or military exoskeleton. It glitters in the sun-bright light, blue and red and silver. Small tools are spread on the tatami: a razor knife, a sprue cutter, curls of emery paper.
The old man is very thin, clean-shaven but in need of a haircut. Wisps of gray hair hang on either side of his face, and his mouth is set in what looks to be a permanent scowl of disapproval. He wears glasses with heavy black plastic frames and archaically thick lenses. The lenses catch the light.
Yamazaki creeps obediently into the carton, feeling the door flap drop shut behind him. On hands and knees, he resists the urge to try to bow.
"He's waiting," the old man says, his brush tip poised above the figure in his hand. "In there." Moving only his head.
Yamazaki sees that the carton has been reinforced with mailing tubes, a system that echoes the traditional post-and-beam architecture of Japan, the tubes lashed together with lengths of salvaged poly-ribbon. There are too many objects here, in this tiny space. Towels and blankets and cooking pots on cardboard shelves. Books. A small television.
"In there?" Yamazaki indicates what he takes to be another door, like the entrance to a hutch, curtained with a soiled square of melon-yellow, foam-cored blanket, the sort of blanket one finds in a capsule hotel. But the brush tip dips to touch the model, and the old man is lost in the concentration this requires, so Yamazaki shuffles on hands and knees across the absurdly tiny space and draws the section of blanket aside. Darkness.
What seems to be a crumpled sleeping bag. He smells sickness-
"Yeah?" A croak. "In here."
Drawing a deep breath, Yamazaki crawls in, pushing his notebook before him. When the melon-yellow blanket falls across the entrance, brightness glows through the synthetic fabric and the thin foam core, like tropical sunlight seen from deep within some coral grotto.
The American groans. Seems to turn, or sit up. Yamazaki can't see. Something covers Laney's eyes. Red wink of a diode. Cables. Faint gleam of the interface, reflected in a thin line against Laney's sweat-slick cheekbone.
"I'm deep in, now," Laney says, and coughs.
"Deep in what?"
"They didn't follow you, did they?"
"I don't think so."
"I could tell if they had."
Yamazaki feels sweat run suddenly from both his armpits, coursing down across his ribs. He forces himself to breathe. The air here is foul, thick. He thinks of the seventeen known strains of multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis.
Laney draws a ragged breath. "But they aren't looking for me, are they?"
"No," Yamazaki says, "they are looking for her."
"They won't find her," Laney says. "Not here. Not anywhere. Not now."
"Why did you run away, Laney?"
"The syndrome," Laney says and coughs again, and Yamazaki feels the smooth, deep shudder of an incoming maglev, somewhere deeper in the station, not mechanical vibration but a vast pistoning of displaced air. "It finally kicked in. The 5-SB. The stalker effect." Yamazaki hears feet hurrying by, perhaps an arm's length away, behind the cardboard wall.
"It makes you cough?" Yamazaki blinks, making his new contact lenses swim uncomfortably.
"No," Laney says and coughs into his pale and upraised hand. "Some bug. They all have it, down here."
"I was worried when you vanished. They began to look for you, but when she was gone-"
"The shit really hit the fan."
Laney reaches up and removes the bulky, old-fashioned eyephones. Yamazaki cannot see what outputs to them, but the shifting light from the display reveals Laney's hollowed eyes. "It's all going to change, Yamazaki. We're coming up on the mother of all nodal points. I can see it, now. It's all going to change."
"I don't understand."
"Know what the joke is? It didn't change when they thought it would. Millennium was a Christian holiday. I've been looking at history, Yamazaki. I can see the nodal points in history. Last time we had one like this was 1911."
"What happened in 1911?"
"It just did. That's how it works. I can see it now."
"Laney," Yamazaki says, "when you told me about the stalker effect, you said that the victims, the test subjects, became obsessed with one particular media figure."
"And you are obsessed with her?"
Laney stares at him, eyes lit by a backwash of data. "No. Not with her. Guy named Harwood. Cody Harwood. They're coming together, though. In San Francisco. And someone else. Leaves a sort of negative trace; you have to infer everything from the way he's not there..."
"Why did you ask me here, Laney? This is a terrible place. Do you wish me to help you to escape?" Yamazaki is thinking of the blades of the Swiss Army knife in his pocket. One of them is serrated; he could easily cut his way out through the wall. Yet the psychological space is powerful, very powerful, and overwhelms him. He feels very far from Shinjuku, from Tokyo, from anything. He smells Laney's sweat. "You are not well."
"Rydell," Laney says, replacing the eyephones. "That rent-a-cop from the Chateau. The one you knew. The one who told me about you, back in LA."
"I need a man on the ground, in San Francisco. I've managed to move some money. I don't think they can trace it. I dicked with DatAmerica's banking sector. Find Rydell and tell him he can have it as a retainer."
"To do what?"
Laney shakes his head. The cables on the eyephones move in the dark like snakes. "He has to be there, is all. Something's coming down. Everything's changing."
"Laney, you are sick. Let me take you-"
"Back to the island? There's nothing there. Never will be, now she's gone."
And Yamazaki knows this is true.
"Where's Rez?" Laney asks.
"He mounted a tour of the Kombinat states, when he decided she was gone."
Laney nods thoughtfully, the eyephones bobbing mantis-like in the dark. "Get Rydell, Yamazaki. I'll tell you how he can get the money."
"Because he's part of it. Part of the node."
Later Yamazaki stands, staring up at the towers of Shinjuku, the walls of animated light, sign and signifier twisting toward the sky in the unending ritual of commerce, of desire. Vast faces fill the screens, icons of a beauty at once terrible and banal.
Somewhere below his feet, Laney huddles and coughs in his cardboard shelter, all of DatAmerica pressing steadily into his eyes. Laney is his friend, and his friend is unwell. The American's peculiar talents with data are the result of experimental trials, in a federal orphanage in Florida, of a substance known as 5-SB. Yamazaki has seen what Laney can do with data, and what data can do to Laney.
He has no wish to see it again.
As he lowers his eyes from the walls of light, the mediated faces, he feels his contacts move, changing as they monitor his depth of focus. This still unnerves him.
Not far from the station, down a side street bright as day, he finds the sort of kiosk that sells anonymous debit cards. He purchases one. At another kiosk, he uses it to buy a disposable phone good for a total of thirty minutes, Tokyo-LA.
He asks his notebook for Rydell's number.
From "All Tomorrow's Parties" by William Gibson. (c) October, 1999 , William Gibson used by permission.