William Gibson,
All Tomorrow's Parties
(Putnam, 1999)

All Tomorrw's Parties concludes the trilogy that includes Virtual Light (1993) and Idoru (1996) -- set towards the close of the 21st century. As much character-driven as plot-driven, the story focuses on the approach of what Gibson calls a "nodal point," a moment in history when certain patterns, trends and data associations converge in a critical moment that can irrevocably change life on Earth.

A young man named Colin Laney, down-and-out (except for his computer interface) in Tokyo, is both blessed and cursed with the ability to read these connections, a talent brought about by childhood exposure to an experimental drug. Laney perceives a nodal point coming, potentially as calamitous as the previous one in 1911. Unfortunately, this is also seen by megalomaniacal industrialist Cody Harwood, who has also dosed himself with Laney's drug and in effect is creating the node. As part of his plan to ensure influence over it, Harwood plans to build a network of nanotech replicators, presently forbidden by most governments, in every one of his franchised, ubiquitous, world-wide Lucky Dragon convenience stores.

Laney's and Harwood's struggle to influence the outcome of the nodal points draws in number of characters, many of them "old friends" from the previous two books in the trilogy and they all head for predicted "ground zero" -- the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, now too earthquake-damaged to support motor vehicle traffic. The famous span has been transformed into a huge, self-governed, build-it-yourself shanty-town populated by hip outsiders. Gathering at the Bridge are Laney's old pal, former rent-a-cop Berry Rydell, to whom Laney has given money and a package which conceals a projector containing the virtual personality, or idoru, Rei Toei; erstwhile bike messenger named Chevette; the weird, watch-loving, intuitive, net-surfer Silencio; the mysterious hacker inhabitants of the virtual Walled City; Harwood's shadowy assassin Konrad; and motley others. Rei Toei proves pivotal in the conclusion that Gibson builds up suspensefully only to end it all with a bittersweet, supremely ironic twist.

All Tomorrow's Parties is a delight to read, filled with Gibson's vividly conceived near-future scenarios and concepts: the neural implants; the matte-black cybergear; the nanotech construction materials; the miscellaneous repurposed cultural detritus -- not to mention the whole crew of appealingly eccentric characters. All this is set forth in the author's unique and astonishingly textured prose rich in off-the-wall ideas and extended metaphors amidst the intriguing character interactions and exciting plot developments. Here is Gibson in top form -- essential reading for SF afficionados.

[ by Amy Harlib ]

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