"...nothing is perfect, really. Nothing is ever finished. Everything is process."
It is hard to believe that William Gibson has only been publishing novels for about fifteen years. After virtually establishing the technological conventions of the cyberpunk genre in the loosely-knit Sprawl trilogy, his second trilogy of Virtual Light, Idoru and now All Tomorrow's Parties deals with a much closer and palpable future. This latest book continues the more hopeful tone of Gibson's recent work -- markedly different from the absolutely dystopic world of Neuromancer. Whilst the overtures of sinister corporate expansion are still apparent, the characters themselves are not the shadowy anti-heroes of his earlier work. Rather than cybernetically-enhanced super hacker/ninjas, the characters tend towards the more mundane and human – bicycle couriers, rent-a-cops, anthropologists.
Taking its title from the anthemic Velvet Underground song, All Tomorrow's Parties focusses on the claustrophobic sense that the world is on the "cusp of some unprecedented potential for change" but that no one really knew what would change or how, in a direct reflection of fin-de-siecle millenarianism of the year 2000. Gibson returns to familiar characters Colin Laney and Rei Toei, as well as to a few characters from 1993's "Virtual Light", hurtling them towards some sort of sociological singularity focussed in the Bay Area.
Following from Idoru, Laney is now in hiding amongst the Tokyo homeless after succumbing to the “stalker effect” of the drugs that once helped him pluck nodal islands from the sea of data. Paranoid and strung out, he is convinced that something earth-shattering and possibly disastrous is about to happen in San Francisco involving the shadowy goals of entrepreneur Cody Harwood, and the idoru Rei Toei.
Gibson is obsessed with interstitial cultures, the things that grow organically between the gaps of society, and this is evident in All Tomorrow’s Parties. The book builds climactically towards the ruins of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which is closed for traffic after the “Little Big One” and populated by any of the outcasts that can epoxy footholds onto its superstructure. The idea of being between things – jobs, housing, and greater society – seems to permeate the novel. All of the characters are mobile and unfixed, and inexorably drawn towards the interstice of the bridge.
Like most cyberpunk fiction, the ending is not nearly as vivid as you’d expect. Although Gibson constructs incisive and nimble prose, the conclusion seems to slowly drag itself to a halt. It seems as if Gibson was reluctant to relinquish his characters for new ground and that his second trilogy is far from over.