All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson


Geek Squad
Feb 14, 2005
Wisconsin, USA
I posted this over at Litspot, too. I hope to post others on both boards. Feel free to comment. :)

All Tomorrow’s Parties
By William Gibson
277 pp. Putnam. 1999.

All Tomorrow’s Parties, the final novel in Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy, has met with mixed reviews from both Gibson fans and critics since its publication in 1999. It’s a novel that certainly has less cyberpunk edge than his previous works, and much of its criticism is centered on the fact that it is a shift away from the science fiction movement that he fused into mainstream and postmodern literature with Neuromancer, his most acclaimed work, back in 1984. Those critics are right; this is no Neuromancer. But that’s not all bad.

In Gibson fashion, the narrative follows many disparate threads, dealing with the characters that he has introduced in Virtual Light and Idoru, the first two novels in the loosely connected trilogy. The book opens with Colin Laney, the protagonist from Idoru, in a state of physical and mental decline, living in a “cardboard city,” sharing a “vaguely coffin-like box” with a Japanese man who builds models. Laney has begun to succumb to a disease caused by the drug 5-SB that he was exposed to when he was a child. The drug has also given him the ability to read the flow of information on the net, finding “nodal points” that allow him to see events emerging from the virtual world into the real one. One such point in history, “the mother of all nodal points,” is rapidly approaching like an apocalyptic storm.

The focal point for this event is the bridge in San Francisco where Virtual Light is set, and Gibson employs much of the cast of the initial novel in this book: Berry Rydell, the luckless cop turned security guard turned private detective; Chevette Washington, the punkgirl-message carrier; and Fontaine the fixit man-turned-watch-peddler all play major roles in Laney’s attempt to stop what he sees as the end of everything as we know it. Rei Toei, the Japanese Idoru, is also pivotal in the plot, emerging in her post-human beauty—“the real deal. Hundred-percent unreal”—from the impending nodal event.

While Gibson has been proclaimed as a future visionary, the inventor of the term cyberspace, who looked at a group of teens in an arcade interfacing with technology, their blank stares collectively dreaming up the virtual world, the future of All Tomorrow’s Parties is less visionary than it was in 1984. This is a novel that necessarily relies less on the novelty of cyberspace and technocratic dystopia than its predecessors. It’s a novel that relies on less of the fashion flash, the black leather, the body augmentations, the mirrorshades, than cyberpunk did.

In fact, in All Tomorrow’s Parties subcultures (like cyberpunk itself) are supplanted (via recommodification and “normalization”) by interstitial spaces, those gaps between cultures, similar to Neal Stephenson’s borders in Snow Crash (where all the interesting things happen) and Thomas Pynchon’s anti-entropic collision of worlds in The Crying of Lot 49, the harbinger of change in America. The bridge is such a zone in Gibson’s novel:

The bridge is real, and to live here exacts its own price.

It is a world within the world, and, if there be such places between the things if the world, places built in the gaps then surely there are things there, and places between them and things in those places, too.

There are elements of Gibson that his fans will recognize as common threads through his novels. The buzz and flash of the “biz” from Chiba City resonate in Shinjuku, where the walls are "of animated light, sign and signifier twisting toward the sky in the unending ritual of commerce, of desire.” Rei Toei embodies the concept of the post-human (recalling Wintermute/Neuromancer), the “emergent system” that here also is emblematic of cultural beauty and desire, a “waking dream, a love object” of the “global mass unconscious.” And Gibson’s mastery as a prose stylist is no less evident here than in any of his other works.

Yet this novel suffers from an emergence of its own. Its place is in the gap between genres, sitting interstitially between science and mainstream fiction. Essentially, it is a good novel that loses readership from its science fiction base because it’s just not the techno-edgy Gibson of Neuromancer, and it’s frowned upon by mainstream critics as another book by “that cyberpunk guy.”

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