But don't bother giving the bad news to William Gibson, the
science fiction writer credited with coining the--oh. Already
did that. Anyway, Gibson writes with the same hepped-up rebel's
fervor today as he did sixteen years ago. But he's toned down
the vocabulary a bit, and he's largely moved away from his early
habit of making faceless, multinational corporations the bad
guys in his novels. (Why bother, right?) This time out, with
All Tomorrow's Parties, he picks up some characters from
his last two novels, Idoru (1996) and the shockingly good
Virtual Light (1993), and brings them together in San
Francisco for what his prescient character Colin Laney promises
to be the real cataclysm, post-Millennium:
Laney reaches up and removes the bulky, old-fashioned eyephones.
Yamazaki cannot see what outputs to them, but the shifting light
from the display reveals Laney's hollowed eyes. "It's all
going to change, Yamazaki. We're coming up on the mother of
all nodal points. I can see it, now. It's all going
"I don't understand."
"Know what the joke is? It didn't change when they thought
it would. Millennium was a Christian holiday. I've been looking
at history, Yamazaki. I can see the nodal points in history.
Last time we had one like this was 1911."
1911? I know--it didn't exactly jump at me as an obvious
date, either. 1918, 1929, 1945...sure. But 1911? Anyway,
according to Laney (and he should know, since a childhood exposure
to an experimental drug makes him especially sensitive to these
sorts of things), something big is going to happen on San Francisco's
Bay Bridge, and whatever it is, it's going to change the world
for real, this time--unless Laney can stop it ("The
future is inherently plural").
Of course, Laney's not sure what it is, exactly, that he's
supposed to stop. But it seems to involve a man with the unnerving
ability to kill people ruthlessly without leaving a trace of
himself on the Net (yep: there's that word--cyberpunks of the
world, unite!). That's why Laney's brought Berry Rydell, the
rent-a-cop from Virtual Light, to the Bay Bridge: he
needs someone with a cop's instincts to track down the killer--and
survive the encounter so he can face whatever comes next.
Unfortunately, Laney isn't telling Rydell as much as he'd
like to know, and he's ready to walk off the job, out of sheer
frustration. But Laney's not up to facing the nodal point on
his own (a combination of "a blue hypnotic cough syrup"
and a Japanese cocktail of "alcohol, caffeine, aspirin,
and liquid nicotine is keeping him going). So it's all up to
Rydell no matter how he feels about being jerked around--or so
it seems. Without giving away too much, let's just say that
Rydell's old girlfriend, Chevette Washington, keeps crossing
his path on the Bridge without quite meeting him, and a wholly
digital Japanese singer who would like to become wholly human
ends up finding him before Chevette does. In the meantime, a
diabolically powerful man who feels the nodal point coming makes
a call to the Net-less killer, to ensure that he's got as much
power post-node as he does now.
Confused? Trust me: it's not just us. All Tomorrow's
Parties can be difficult to decipher at times, and part of
the reason lies in Gibson's unique writing style. Jean-Luc Godard's
films might be the closest another artist's work comes to Gibson's
technique: they both use abbreviated scenes, confusing close
shots and jump cuts to disorient their audience. Gibson's writing
is wonderful when he pares it down, as it is here in this noirish
"We have profiles," the man with the scarf says,
off-camera, the face of the corpse thrown across Laney's cardboard
wall, the melon blanket. "We have a full forensic psych
run-up. But you ignore them."
"Of course I do."
"You're in denial." Two pairs of hands, in latex
gloves, grasp the dead man, flip him over. There is a second,
smaller wound visible, beneath one shoulder blade; blood has
pooled within the body, darkened. "He poses as real a danger
to you as to anyone else."
"But he's interesting, isn't he?"
The wound, in close-up, is a small unsmiling mouth. The blood
reads black. "Not to me."
"But you aren't interesting, are you?"
"No," and the camera pans up, light catching a sharp
cheekbone above the black scarf, "and you don't want me
to be, do you?"
But Gibson's prose suffers when he overworks it. In the more
portentous sections of All Tomorrow's Parties, Gibson's
sentences become so entangled that it's tough, at first glance,
to untangle them. But that's part of the price Gibson's willing
to pay, I suppose, in order to build up the momentum he needs
to make his impressionistic prose take on an unworldly, eerily
All Tomorrow's Parties isn't as good as Virtual
Light (a Pynchonesque masterpiece, as far as I'm concerned),
but it still makes for fun, heady reading--particularly if you
like your sci-fi mysteries shrouded in a form-concealing gothic