Review: All Tomorrow’s Parties by William Gibson

“‎Now the deer moved through snow, snow that blew sideways, frosting the perfectly upright walls of Detroit’s dead and monumental heart, vast black tines of brick reaching up to vanish in the white sky. They made a lot of nature shows there.”
~William Gibson, All Tomorrow’s Parties

Plot summary

“Colin Laney, sensitive to patterns of information like no one else on Earth, currently resides in a cardboard box in Toyko [sic!]. His body shakes with fever dreams, but his mind roams free as always, and he knows something is about to happen. Not in Toyko [sic!]; he will not see this thing himself. Something is about to happen in San Francisco…

CyberPunk. Photo: Zio Bill (CC BY 2.0)
CyberPunk. Photo: Zio Bill (CC BY 2.0)

The mists of San Francisco make it easy to hide, if hiding is what you want, and even at the best of times reality there seems to shift. A gray man moves elegantly through the mists, leaving bodies in his wake, so that a tide of absences alerts Laney to his presence. A boy named Silencio does not speak, but flies through webs of cyber-information in search of the one object that has seized his information. And Rei Toei, the Japanese Idoru, continues her study of all things human. She herself is not human, not quite, but she’s working on it. And in the mists of San Francisco, at this rare moment in history, who is to say what is or is not impossible…” More on Goodreads

On William Gibson

“William Ford Gibson is an American-Canadian writer who has been called the father of the cyberpunk subgenre [sic!] of science fiction, having coined the term cyberspace in 1982 and popularized it in his first novel, Neuromancer (1984), (…).

While his early writing took the form of short stories, Gibson has since written nine critically acclaimed novels, contributed articles to several major publications, and has collaborated extensively with performance artists, filmmakers and musicians. His thought has been cited as an influence on science fiction authors, academia, cyberculture, and technology.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
  • Cyberpunk
  • Futuristic fiction
  • World in transition

Whenever I am reminded of the term cyberpunk, I think about the film Blade Runner. Cyberpunk seems to come with rain, darkness, narrow filthy streets with Asian street food vendors. And then Rick Deckard, portrayed by Harrison Ford, comes along and says something irrelevant in a deep voice. And then, later, Rutger Hauer portraying one of the main Androids in Blade Runner, makes an entrance and questions humanity with all his heart. So these things seem to go hand in hand. Gibson adds hackers and data workers to the scenario but all in all, it seems, anarchy is somewhat prevalent in the society described in the novel or in cyberpunk stories in general.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
~Rutger Hauer, All Those Moments: Stories of Heroes, Villains, Replicants, and Blade Runners

Ever since I finished reading Iain M. BanksConsider Phlebas, I have wondered what it is that draws us to certain books and genres. It had been a long time for me to give it a go for Banks, but finishing Phlebas was close to utter boredom. However, I did not want to leave the book unfinished, that would be giving up too easily. I could not relate to the characters and the atmosphere of the Culture series. It was a little too fantasy-filled and violent for my taste, so I did not become a fan of Banks‘ science-fiction novels. Oh well, good news, now there’s one author less to read.

In some sense, cyberpunk is a technologically-savvy-world-meets-pop-culture. But I have always attached it to a broader sociopolitical setting, with a loose government (either complete or semi-anarchy) or a very strong government hold on its citizens, i.e. a totalitarian society. I do not know why.

On a side note, by the time one realizes that the title for Gibson‘s novel is based on a hippie song entitled All Tomorrow’s Parties by The Velvet Underground (1967), you think “what the frack! How did things escalate that quickly.” At least one would expect 1980’s rock music and not super-hippie cheesy songs. Well, I guess there’s nothing one can do about it is there? 🙂

Gibson’s prose, as always, is portentous, crosscutting tough-guy understatement and poetic vagary.” (Leclair 1999)

I think Leclair is overestimating the tough-guy element in the story. I think the characters were on some level rather lonely and emotionally vulnerable, but at the same time also genuine and able to cope in cyberpunkish environments.

I believe it is precisely the strong hold on melancholy characters that makes Gibson‘s novels so powerful. The broad aspects in the characters make them easy to be related to and put flesh on the bones.


Cover of All Tomorrow's Parties by Gibson. Photo: CHRIS DRUMM (CC BY 2.0)
Cover of All Tomorrow’s Parties by Gibson. Photo: CHRIS DRUMM (CC BY 2.0)

More information
– Tom Leclair: Virtual Novel – William Gibson’s futuristic world has hackers and holograms and old-fashioned chases, published in The New York Times on 21 November 1999, link retrieved on 27 January 2017
– Rafael Miranda Huereca: The evolution of cyberpunk into postcyberpunk – The role of cognitive cyberspaces, wetware networks and nanotechnology in science fiction, doctoral dissertation published at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona in July 2011

Other novels and stories by Gibson
  • Johnny Mnemonic (1981)
  • Neuromancer (1984)
  • Burning Chrome (1986)
  • Count Zero (1986)
  • Mona Lisa Overdrive (1988)
  • Virtual Light (1993)
  • Idoru (1996)
  • Pattern Recognition (2003)
  • Spook Country (2007)
  • Zero History (2010)
  • The Peripheral (2014)

“She was sometimes happy, in the sense of being somehow complete, and ready for what another day might bring. And knows she is no longer that, and that while she was, she scarcely knew it.”
~William Gibson, All Tomorrow’s Parties


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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