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All Tomorrow's Parties (1999)

by William Gibson

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Bridge Trilogy (3)

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4,169332,206 (3.69)31
From his cardboard box in the Tokyo subway, connected to the Internet, a clairvoyant cyberpunk mobilizes his friends to avert a world disaster. It is due to occur on a bridge in San Francisco, now home to squatters, and is part of a rich man's bid for world domination.
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Timelines and parallel possibilities come together and break apart during each waking second of the day and every sleeping moment of the night. Little connections are being made everywhere that ripple and reverberate throughout society and sometimes, just sometimes, people find a way to get in front of the chaos wave, trying to direct it towards their own desired outcomes. So when telling a story like this it only makes sense to place most of it on a large, broken down bridge, as it leads in one way to a whole new existence, but in another way it leads nowhere at all.

For those who don’t know about William Gibson, here is a tasty refresher course. Gibson can’t be said to have burst onto the cyberpunk scene in 1984 with his landmark novel Neuromancer, the reason being that he created the cyberpunk scene. He refers in a large number of his books to nodal points and connectors that bring about change in the world they exist, well, he himself is one of those points. With the introduction of Neuromancer into popular culture he coined the first ever usage of the word “cyberspace” and thereby defined it. Once that found its place in our lexicon the growing world of virtual reality and cyberspace became molded as much by his visions than any scientific field or philosopher. It’s not even too far to say that Neuromancer became the unofficial bible of this burgeoning virtual world. From that point on he was raised to cult-like status by science fiction fans around the world and her has never strayed far from the cyberpunk genre, following things up with titles such as Count Zero, Burning Chrome, Mona Lisa Overdrive, Virtual Light and Idoru. He also wrote the short story Johnny Mnemonic, which was adapted into a completely silly movie with Keanu Reeves as the star.

No that you’ve had your literary history class, let’s discuss this particular work, All Tomorrow’s Parties.

This story revolves around a group of people who unknowingly find themselves at the nexus point of a major change in the world as they know it. Some of them are fighting to stop it, while others are trying to get ahead of it and direct it to their own ends. Lastly, the group which we all feel the most kinship with, are those who are stuck in the middle without any comprehension of how big this situation really is. On the heroic side; Laney, a unwilling patient from an orphanage who was given a drug that now allows him to see the flow of data and understand it on a deeply fundamental level; Rydell, a one time rent-a-cop who encapsulates an archetype that Gibson loves to write, the dark trenchcoat-wearing, quiet-talking, lighting-quick moving, unwilling loner hero; Silencio, a boy who doesn’t speak, but has an innate talent for digging underneath the information he is shown to find the information that he wants; Chevette, a young, punky looking girl who’s undesired ability is being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong man on her arm; and lastly the appearance of Rei Toei, a completely virtual Japanese pop star who is totally sentient, universally desired and somehow nowhere to be found. These are the characters that Gibson weaves into this tale and the enviroment he sets them loose in is a nearly destroyed futuristic version of the Golden Gate bridge, which since a massive earthquake no longer has cars packed on it in traffic jams, but an entire city of squatters and outcasts aptly called “Bridge People”.

One of the things I love about Gibson is his staccato writing style. The stories snap and break as he slices over to a new timeline or another character’s point of view. There is a beat and rythym to his writing that is unique to him alone. I will admit that if you have no knowledge at all of computers and the digital culture, there are going to be a lot of concepts and terms thrown around in Gibson’s work that won’t make a lick of sense. He is the Granddaddy of Cyberpunk and it would definitely be good to brush up on the topic before diving into his world. As for my feelings on this story, I liked it. It is a little tough getting into it, mainly due to so many different threads being started, but once they start to intertwine with each other the excitement from each one builds on the next and you ride that wave until the final page. Overall not quite as intriguing as some of his other books, Pattern Recognition being the most recent I read before this, but still a solid effort and a fun dip into the seedy side of the tech world. ( )
  LukeGoldstein | Aug 10, 2021 |
After Idoru blew my mind on a very long plane ride home, I really wanted to like this book, but it just feels like there's something missing. Much of the plot of Idoru seems to have all been for nothing, and the plotting here is muddled at best - it feels like Gibson had a great idea for a climax and then struggled to work backwards from there. ( )
  skolastic | Feb 2, 2021 |
The ending wasn't as tidy as some of his other books, leaving a few questions, but overall I liked the book a great deal. Gibson has an interesting style that makes a trade-off between the flow of the language and the density of description. I think this keeps his books short because instead of long passages of description, he packs each sentence with inferences that tell you about the environment. ( )
  helenar238 | Oct 31, 2020 |
I read this in college and it stuck with me. Rereading it now I understand why. Basically, and trust me that a basic description is difficult, it takes place in a San Francisco where the Golden Gate Bridge has been rendered unsafe for traffic and has become a sort of transiant community that lives apart from people. There is to be a shift in the world and and the bridge is ground zero. A fasinating read. ( )
  Colleen5096 | Oct 29, 2020 |
All Tomorrow's Parties is the final novel in the Bridge Trilogy, re-visiting Virtual Light's California and Idoru's Japan. Now Chevette & Rydell (VL) join Laney and Rei Toei (ID) on the same stage, if not sharing the same scenes, with most of the action in SF and on the Bridge. The condemned Bay Bridge, central image to the trilogy, is analogous to the seismic shift anticipated in culture and playing out across all three books, unfolding digitally rather than materially. History relayed not as narrative (the approach of orthodox historians), but as shape with inflection points, seed crystals in solution.

The series arc played out in the wings of the first two books, but comes center stage here -- ATP as coda to the Bridge sonata. ATP is very much an abstract work, and inverts what Gibson did with the prior installments in the trilogy. Where those novels served up familiar plots and left the big ideas to surface in parenthetical commentary along the way, here that commentary is the story, and here events themselves are best understood as secondary. The earlier books didn't prepare for this so it's small surprise the lack of plot here can be disorienting. Gibson didn't translate his ideas into actions, rather what plot there is amounts to little more than an audience gathering to watch the results of a papal conclave. And yet, there's little drama and opposition as might be expected by anyone watching smoke from the Sistine Chapel: Did factions work against my candidate? What arguments or deals are made? Here, any scheming and backstabbing between characters is replaced with abstract conceptions of what it would look like to observe history shifting from one era to another, and plot merely describes the announcement of the ballot result, not the machinations undertaken when holding the election.

In that light, ATP is a strategic game not an allegory, and characters are tokens: game counters suggesting the abstract interactions Gibson moves around a board of the 20th Century. So: Harwood embodies the deliberate shaping of history toward personal ends, Laney the force of principled resistance. Both took drug 5-SB (Harwood voluntarily, hah! and Laney involuntarily). Konrad (aka Loveless) embodies Tao, a balancing point between Laney and Harwood -- though in the plot, Konrad works directly for Harwood. Interestingly Rei Toei is an emergent system, collaborating with Laney (he taught her data nodal recognition), and could be seen as another manifestation of Tao, but in her case the employer not the mercenary. Rei Toei's manifestation at the end seems most indicative of the shift Laney sees coming: Gibson's everting internet.

Gibson set himself a serious puzzle, to put his ideas into a novel rather than an essay of speculative non-fiction. Rewarding for any reader giving it the attention it demands, a novel of ideas over action or image.

//

synopsis | Laney has long suspected a massive cultural shift is coming, seeing in the flow of cultural data certain inflection points which suggest a new shape. He strongly suspects the focal point will be San Francisco and the change will be historic. Unable to travel, he hires Rydell to go and report back. Even so, Laney continues his own investigations from Tokyo, but his nodal vision is increasingly distracted by patterns traceable to global marketing figure Cody Harwood. Separately, Chevette is back in San Francisco, avoiding an abusive ex while showing a friend around the Bridge. Chevette collaborated with Rydell once, but is unaware of his work now. Their separate concerns, local and personal, coalesce around a global media event and threaten to disrupt corporate planning and control. ( )
  elenchus | Oct 2, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
William Gibsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Werner, HoniCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Through this evening's tide of faces unregistered, unrecognised, amid hurrying black shoes, furled umbrellas, the crowd descending like a single organism into the station's airless heart, comes Shinya Yamazaki, his notebook clasped beneath his arm like the egg case of some modest but moderately successful marine species.
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From his cardboard box in the Tokyo subway, connected to the Internet, a clairvoyant cyberpunk mobilizes his friends to avert a world disaster. It is due to occur on a bridge in San Francisco, now home to squatters, and is part of a rich man's bid for world domination.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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