Published in 1999, All Tomorrow’s Parties concludes William Gibson’s loose Bridge Trilogy. It’s a sequel to both Virtual Light and Idoru and, while I found myself wishing I’d read both of those books before picking this one up, it can be followed without knowing either.
Title: All Tomorrow’s Parties
Original Publication Date: 1999
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Laney (last seen in Idoru) has taken to living in a cardboard box in a Tokyo subway station. He’s no crazed street-person, however; the subject of experimental drug treatments, he can read trends in data, and he knows something significant will soon happen, with its center on the Bay Bridge in San Francisco. The bridge, in this near-future, post-Big-One world, has become a wild west community. Cody Harwood, a billionaire mogul also has become aware of the upcoming change, and wants to harness it for his own interests. Several characters, most of whom appeared in either Virtual Light or Idoru, converge and conflict on the Bridge as the future begins again.
Gibson creates a world as complex as our own, through which we can maneuver without having everything explained. I can believe that his version of our future has a history, without necessarily knowing every detail that led to it.
For this novel to stand on its own, we should really learn more about some of the characters who wander through it.
Originality: 4/6. In some respects, the Bridge Trilogy is a toned-down, nearer-future version of the Cyberpunk Trilogy. Gibson has followed an interesting course, with his most recent novel a more-or-less realistic thriller set in the present. Yet one can read the two trilogies and Pattern Recognition as a piece, with similar subject matter, themes, and (if one tweaks a few details), a plausible shared timeline.1
Story: 4/6. Gibson’s story turns on some interesting, plausible developments in technology. It may take some readers several pages to figure out where the story is heading, however. The first half of the book assumes some knowledge of the previous two, and it shifts focus frequently.
Characterization: 4/6. This novel features a lot of characters. While none of them seemed unbelievable, none receive adequate development, and I found it difficult to sympathize with them. A secondary character, Fontaine, struck me as the most interesting of the lot.
Imagery: 6/6. Gibson’s strength has always been the ability to create fully-realized, complex societies which reflect the influence of various speculative technologies. North America won’t be quite like this in a couple year’s time (we’ve almost caught up to the novel’s era), but we may learn in a decade or so that Gibson’s speculations came pretty close to reality.
Watch the final image carefully; it’s clever in a number of ways.
Emotional Response: 4/6. The book saves its most powerful moments for the final chapters. I found myself lost a little in the opening ones, and not always in a good way.
Overall Score: 5/6
In total, All Tomorrow’s Parties receives 32/42