All Tomorrow’s Parties: Fascinating post-post-industrial setting

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSF book reviews WIlliam Gibson 1. Virtual Light 2. Idoru 3. All Tomorrow's PartiesAll Tomorrow’s Parties by William Gibson

When he was a child in an orphanage in Florida, Colin Laney participated in a research study in which he was given a drug that allows him to visualize and extract meaningful information from endless streams of internet data. Laney now has the ability to see nodal points in history — times and places where important changes are occurring. Even though he doesn’t recognize what the change will be, he “sees the shapes from which history emerges.”

Laney is now an adult who’s sick and living in a cardboard box in a Tokyo subway station. He’s convinced that something big is about to happen in San Francisco. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen, but he knows it will change the world. Unable to get there himself, Laney hires Rydell, a California rent-a-cop, to investigate.

Rydell is pleased to be leaving his lowly night job at the Lucky Dragon convenience store, but his new assignment is not as easy as it first seems to be. First of all, he’s being followed by a bunch of thugs. Then there’s the mysterious silent killer who’s lurking around San Francisco. Not to mention Rydell’s ex-girlfriend Chevette and her video-camera-toting friend, a drunk and stimulant-addicted country singer named Buell Creedmore, a computer-generated Asian girl, and a black man named Fontaine who has two wives and sells watches and faux Japanese babies. Rydell has no idea what’s going on… And neither does the unfortunate reader who might be expecting an easy-to-follow plot with a beginning, middle, and end.

But Gibson’s fans know that you don’t read his books for a fast-paced straight-forward plot. Gibson’s brilliance is in creating ideas, settings, technologies, and especially, vivid characters you can’t easily forget. Even minor characters are memorable when he gives them extensive backstories and names like Silencio, Boomzilla, Playboy, and my favorite, Praisegod Satansbane.

Gibson’s “post-post-industrial” settings are fascinating. All Tomorrow’s Parties, and its two related BRIDGE trilogy books, Virtual Light and Idoru, take place in a future ruined California which has been divided into Northern (NoCal) and Southern (SoCal) states. Much of All Tomorrow’s Parties is set on and around the decaying San Francisco Bay bridge which is now stacked with ramshackle plywood dwellings and vendor stalls. That’s an unforgettable image.

Cool tech is also to be expected in Gibson’s novels, and you’ll definitely find some in All Tomorrow’s Parties. My favorites here were the graffiti-eating paint, the quake-proof polymer building materials that engulf whatever’s thrown at them, the global interactive video screens on the pylons outside the Lucky Dragon stores all over the world, and the world-changing piece of technology that appears at the end of the novel.

Those who’ve read the first two BRIDGE trilogy books (which are not required since All Tomorrow’s Parties can stand alone) may want to know what happened to the characters they met there, and there are some answers here, but as with Mona Lisa Overdrive, the sequel to Gibson’s Neuromancer and Count Zero, these characters’ stories don’t so much resolve as just kind of leave us guessing at what might have happened next. Is it the end of the world as we know it, as Laney fears?

But Gibson doesn’t leave us completely empty-handed. He gives us interesting things to think about, and perhaps a warning. He makes us wonder how emergent technologies will change us. Will we destroy ourselves with our cleverness? Could we fall in love with people who only exist in virtual reality? Can we become aware enough of the “shape of history” to predict what will happen in the future? Can we change the future? Can we thwart God? Can we become gods?

I listened to Brilliance Audio’s version of All Tomorrow’s Parties, read by Jonathan Davis. His strong sonorous voice makes him one of my favorite readers. I just like listening to him anyway, but he’s especially brilliant when he’s performing William Gibson’s characters.


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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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