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All Tomorrow's Parties
William Gibson
Putnam Books, 288 pages

All Tomorrow's Parties
William Gibson
William Gibson was born in Conway, South Carolina, spent his childhood in southwestern Virginia, and left the United States for Canada when he was 19. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, with his wife and their two children. His first novel, Neuromancer, won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award in 1984. He is also the author of Count Zero, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Burning Chrome, and Virtual Light.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Idoru
SF Site Review: Idoru
alt.cyberpunk FAQ
Blue Shift on Cyberpunk
An Interview with William Gibson
William Gibson's Home Page

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

First, the general facts: For connoisseurs of Gibson-lit, this novel completes a loose-knit trilogy begun with Virtual Light, followed by Idoru. (Don't take the term 'trilogy' too literally; as was the case with the Neuromancer trilogy, there are plenty of connections and characters shared between the three, but if you haven't read the previous books you can still enjoy Parties without total confusion -- and how many trilogies can you say that about?)

Its title comes from an anthemic Velvet Underground song -- and if you have to ask, "What is the Velvet Underground?" then you're missing a large part of the cultural history that grounds cyberpunk in general and Gibson's work in particular. Go look it up. Better yet, find some and listen.

Parties opens with an all-illuminating flash of character, plot, and world-in-transition, traditional elements swirling with a queasy mix with slick pop culture and gritty post-Millennial decadence:

"Yamazaki stands, staring up at the towers of Shinjuku, the walls of animated light, sign and signifier twisting toward the sky in an 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... Yamazaki has seen what Laney can do with data, and what data can do to Laney.

He has no wish to see it again."

Data miner Colin Laney has gone into hiding from the corporations who paid him to hunt nodes, places where data points converge in the galactic expanse of random information spread throughout the Net's databases. Thanks to the success of 5-SB, an experimental drug he received during tests carried out at the federal orphanage where he grew up, Laney is The Man Who Knows Too Much. 5-SB alters the brain, giving test subjects the ability to focus tightly, to find and follow patterns, to pull the pieces together. Unfortunately, 5-SB subjects eventually succumb to the stalker effect, an obsession which drives them to spend all their energies researching a single person.

Hiding out in his cardboard box 'room' in a Tokyo subway, Laney is finally experiencing the stalker effect, even as he manages to identify "the mother of all nodal points," the future space-time point, somewhere in San Francisco in a few days, where a massive convergence will change the world forever. Part of that convergence is Rei Toei, the virtual Japanese idoru ("doll singer"), whom Laney helped to escape from her music industry masters. A second is a nameless man whose allegiance and goals are a mystery, but whose survival skills make him a force to be reckoned with. The third is Laney's stalker-obsession...

Working with a powerful band of vigilante hackers based in an electronic realm called The Forbidden City, Laney is determined to influence the approaching node, hopefully to prevent disaster. Laney's agent of change is everyman Berry Rydell, ex-rent-a-cop and one-time almost-star of the hit TV show "Cops in Trouble." Now reduced to working security in a Los Angeles "Lucky Dragon" convenience store, Rydell is resigned to the hope that something better will come along. Which leads him to accept Laney's job offer in spite of the fact that

"In Rydell's experience, hackers just couldn't resist showing off, and they tended to get all arty. And, he knew, they could usually get your ass in trouble, and usually did."
The job looks simple enough: get north to San Francisco, pick up a package and deliver it to the right place at the right time.

Also bound for San Francisco is Berry's old flame, buff ex-bike messenger Chevette Washington. Broke and out of work, Chevette is running from an abusive boyfriend, hoping to find friends and shelter in her old stomping grounds in the "interstitial" community living on the Golden Gate Bridge. Along for the ride is Chevette's roommate Tessa, a media student determined to make an award-winning docudrama out of Chevette's life and the comfortably bizarre bridge culture. Together with an impressively wide cast of characters, each is a vector directed toward Laney's nodal point, a force in the unseen battle to control the future's direction.

A skillful mix of present and past tense chapters bring each character to life. Settings gleam with realism, often snarky humour, from the laundromat called "Vicious Cycle" to the shiny plastic Lucky Dragon stores with their cutesy pink logos and graffiti-eating exteriors. Gibson's work has always had a cinematic quality, a vividness that makes reading him like watching a great film unroll inside your head. As always, his prose is polished, but never self-indulgent or vapid.

This latest book also continues the lighter, more hopeful tone of Gibson's recent work -- markedly different from the dark, fatalistic spirit of the Neuromancer series. It's as if he's recreating the future, overwriting the grim cyber-dystopia of his earlier work with a more optimistic, though no less dangerous, view. The scale of the world has also changed. While the Neuromancer series gave us cybernetically enhanced assassins and deft-fingered netrunner cowboys in thrall to amoral multi-national corporations, now regular joes join the battle. Good-natured Berry Rydell is more hero than anti-hero, an undeniably pure soul in a world where it seems nothing should be taken at face value. Likewise Chevette, Tessa, and most of the other point-of-view characters move through the story without shadow agendas; no one except Laney is truly at the end of their rope. Yet Laney, more than the rest, ironically enough, can afford to be philosophical about it. As he muses early on,

"...nothing is perfect, really. Nothing is ever finished. Everything is process."

Copyright © 1999 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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