Review: All Tomorrow's Parties by William Gibson
Colin Laney may be dying in a cardboard shelter in Tokyo, but he sees what's coming: the end of the world as we know it. Laney has a talent for seeing the shape of things to come by recognizing patterns in the ebb and flow of information in the Web. But as Heisenberg noted, "the observer interacts with the observed through the process of observation." Laney may be starving and sick in a cardboard shelter in Tokyo, but his detachment from life isn't helping — there is a perturbation in the shape of what he sees, and it may mean someone else is now able to observe it. And him, as well.
In All Tomorrow's Parties, Gibson has given us visionary insights into how the information age shapes us and the world we inhabit. Pattern Recognition introduced that concept in a current-time setting, while we met Laney and several other characters who appear in this near-future novel, in Idoru and Virtual Light.
These are solid characters, and we recognize them easily by their actions and choices. Laney hides, and obsesses, due to the action of the drug that initiated his skills; Rydell yearns to be a cop as he dances from one low-level job to another; Chevette the one-time bike-messenger/thief moves restlessly from one interstice to another; Rei Toei the idoru lives her virtual life and conspires to make the leap to flesh and blood.
Their lives intersect one final time on the quake-damaged Bay Bridge. Suspended between San Francisco and Oakland, they hunt through the cobbled-together dwellings and lives of the bridge people for the one thing that will trigger the end of the world. Because Laney has foreseen an event coming, and after it nothing will be the same.
Gibson's prose distills the objective style of 30s noir and gives it new vigor with a futurist edge:
"Rydell knew that killing was not the explosive handshake exchange of movies, but a terrible dark marriage..."He uses words with precision and grace, crafting phrases, sentences and paragraphs of such evocative power that they haunt you for hours. "Formal absences of precious things" describes the empty pedestals in a jewelry-store window at night; a man whose concealed knife is "a key to a door", and he "is by trade a keeper of the door to that country", Death. Laney calls his interface with the world "Suit", because his black salaryman's costume is maintained with paint; also "the man's ankles are painted, in imitation of black socks, with something resembling asphalt."
As with the novels that preceded it, All Tomorrow's Parties is a feast of life both real and virtual, and not to be missed.