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Thrilling and satirical view of the near future
on 21 August 2012
This is a magnificent novel displaying everything William Gibson is good at to its fullest effect. A stylish and intelligent thriller of the near future, it shows a writer on top form and pulling off the frankly disconcerting trick of thrilling his readers to their very core while sticking to a beautifully measured, effortless prose. It's like a public speaker whipping an audience to a frenzy without so much as breaking a sweat or even raising his voice.
The closing part of what is now known as Gibson's Bridge trilogy, All Tomorrow's Parties is set in the early 21st Century. Its most prominent feature is the ruined San Francisco - Oakland Bay bridge which has been replaced by a tunnel made possible by nanotechnology, and is now home to a bustling shanty town for those with nowhere else to go, people with no official status, illegal and semi-legal businesses and various other inhabitants of a twilight world. We are taken as well to Japan, where a pharmaceutically-damaged savant with a talent for data analysis (Laney from the second book in the trilogy, Idoru) picks up a worrying trend and an obsession with a leading media baron. The story also pulls in Chevette, the cycle courier protagonist of the first Bridge novel, Virtual Light, and Berry Rydell also appeared in the first. A very strange mercenary working for the media baron also comes into the mix.
What emerges is a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse played out in and around San Francisco and the Bridge community. Laney leads a gang of vigilante hackers in an attack on the established corporate order while the mercenary, lethal and on the edge, tries to shut them down. Our eyes on the story, Rydell and Chevette, are dragged into a dangerous conflict without much choice in the matter, and somewhere in the data of Laney's obsession, the future will be decided.
Gibson intended this trilogy as a satire on the decay, corporate power and trends in technology and media that he perceived in the 1990s. What it also does is give an insight into the kind of future we could expect around the corner. Some of the detail has not come true but the idea of a new way of living where the media, virtual reality (and reality television) permeates everything, almost omnipotent corporations, and a growing underclass with few prospects and more opportunities in criminal and antisocial activities has a certain resonance. There is also the idea of the world becoming more chaotic and the 21st century, one way or another, having a pretty difficult birth.
The nominal setting for the story is around 2010, but frankly you could reset the clock and imagine a lot of this happening a decade from now. It's still fresh, vibrant and balances on a fine line between Gibson's wry, observational tone and the unsettling, worrying view of a new world just waiting to arrive whether we like it or not. Of all Gibson's books, which I love, this is my favourite, a twisty thriller of unusual events, culminating in a big climax and ending on a note of cautious hopefulness. A really satisfying, gripping read.