William Gibson's 'Parties' -- the future is coming

October 03, 1999|By Chris Kridler | By Chris Kridler,Sun Staff

"All Tomorrow's Parties," by William Gibson. Putnam. 304 pages. $24.95.

William Gibson, the guy who invented the word "cyberspace," who blew the minds of science-fiction readers with "Neuromancer" in 1984, who makes the future seem as near as the next second, is treading over the same ground in his latest foray into the cyberpunk world.

And you know what? It's still exhilarating.

"All Tomorrow's Parties," his latest novel, stitches together characters who ran through his "Virtual Light" and "Idoru," though the new book stands on its own. Relentlessly dazzling and simultaneously grim in its depiction of a technologically saturated 21st century, and packed with lucid descriptions of our chemically tainted, violent, greedy future, it resonates, above all, with hope.

The plot, as always in Gibson's work, is secondary to the journey. His genius is in the details, throwaway bursts of creative steam, from his description of a "smart material" that lurks in paint, waiting to scrub off graffiti assaults, to the rickety city that fills a post-earthquake Bay Bridge in San Francisco (in the recently formed state of NoCal).

Colin Laney, whose brain has been cooked by an experimental drug that lets him perceive shifts in history through the massive waves of data he surfs, foresees a radical change. Many other characters are dragged into his quest for the truth, including former bike messenger Chevette, security man Rydell, watch dealer Fontaine and the idoru (virtual woman) Rei Toei. They and their milieu will be familiar to Gibson's fans, and their interconnectivity -- not unlike that of computers -- makes coincidence as much of a character in the story as the people are.

Lots of stuff happens, but more memorable is Gibson's style, a kind of hardboiled romanticism, in which all the grit, metal, drugs and poverty of the future can't eclipse the shiny wink of virtue, the instinct for survival and an occasional flash of humor. His descriptions range from staccato action to cathode-ray brush strokes:

"But now he allows himself to anticipate the sight that awaits him, past the last rhomboid: the bridge's mad maw, the gateway to dream and memory, where sellers of fish spread their wares on beds of dirty ice. A perpetual bustle, a coming and going, that he honors as the city's very pulse.

"And steps out, into unexpected light, faux-neon redline glare above a smooth sweep of Singaporean plastic."

Antique watches are a motif throughout "All Tomorrow's Parties," a reminder of how much faster the past slips away with each technological advance - and that, sometimes, technology can renew our sense of time, too.

The ending just ends, and it's a bit disappointing if you're not living, or reading, purely in the moment. It suggests certain comeuppances, conclusions and connections and implies action the way poetry implies sensation. It makes this whole future seem like the prelude to another story. But then again, isn't that what today is?

Chris Kridler is assistant arts and entertainment editor at The Sun. Her work has appeared in The Sun, the Maryland Poetry Review, the Miami Herald, Premiere and elsewhere.

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