All Tomorrow's Parties:
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William Gibson, who predicted the Internet with Neuromancer, takes
us into the millennium with a brilliant new novel about the moments
in history when futures are born.
All Tomorrow's Parties is the perfect novel to publish at the end
of the 20th century. It brings back Colin Laney, one of the most popular
characters from Idoru, the man whose special sensitivities about people
and events let him predict certain aspects of the future. Laney has
realized that the disruptions everyone expected to happen at the beginning
of the year 2000, which in fact did not happen, are still to come.
Though down-and-out in Tokyo, his sense of what is to come tells him
that the big event, whatever it is, will happen in San Francisco.
He decides to head back to the United States--to San Francisco--to
meet the future.
The Washington Post praised Idoru as "beautifully written, dense with
metaphors that open the eyes to the new, dreamlike, intensely imagined,
deeply plausible." A bestseller across the country (it reached #1
in Los Angeles and San Francisco), and a major critical success, it
confirmed William Gibson's position as "the premier visionary working
in SF today" (Publishers Weekly). All Tomorrow's Parties is his next
"When Gibson, one of science fiction's greatest literary
stylists, is at his best, he offers visceral detail ("helicopters
swarming like dragonflies") even when promising transcendent change
("the mother of all nodal points" -- a moment in the near future
when the fabric of daily life will twist profoundly).
Gibson wouldn't be Gibson if he spelled it out, if he eliminated
all the ambiguity. His specialty is hanging on to that fractal edge
without ever going over the brink."
"…this book has it all: a good story, electric writing, and a group
of likable and believable characters who are out to save the world
... kind of."
"The post modern gospel according to Gibson, the patron saint of
"All Tomorrow's Parties is immensely engaging, alive on every page
and as enjoyable a weekend entertainment as one could want."
--The Washington Post Book World
1. Cardboard City
Through this evening's tide of faces unregistered, unrecognized, 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.
Evolved to cope with jostling elbows, oversized Ginza shopping bags,
ruthless briefcases, Yamazaki and his small burden of information
go down into the neon depths. Toward this tributary of relative quiet,
a tiled corridor connecting parallel escalators.
Central columns, sheathed in green ceramic, support a ceiling pocked
with dust-furred ventilators, smoke detectors, speakers. Behind the
columns, against the far wall, derelict shipping cartons huddle in
a ragged train, improvised shelters constructed by the city's homeless.
Yamazaki halts, and in that moment all the oceanic clatter of commuting
feet washes in, no longer held back by his sense of mission, and he
deeply and sincerely wishes he were elsewhere.
He winces, violently, as a fashionable young matron, features swathed
in Chanel micropore, rolls over his toes with an expensive three-wheeled
stroller. Blurting a convulsive apology, Yamazaki glimpses the infant
passenger through flexible curtains of some pink-tinted plastic, the
glow of a video display winking as its mother trundles determinedly
Yamazaki sighs, unheard, and limps toward the cardboard shelters.
He wonders briefly what the passing commuters will think, to see him
enter the carton fifth from the left. It is scarcely the height of
his chest, longer than the others, vaguely coffin-like, a flap of
thumb-smudged white corrugate serving as its door.
Perhaps they will not see him, he thinks. Just as he himself has never
seen anyone enter or exit one of these tidy hovels. It is as though
their inhabitants are rendered invisible in the transaction that allows
such structures to exist in the context of the station. He is a student
of existential sociology, and such transactions have been his particular
And now he hesitates, fighting the urge to remove his shoes and place
them beside the rather greasy-looking pair of yellow plastic sandals
arranged beside the entrance flap on a carefully folded sheet of Parco
gift wrap. No, he thinks, imagining himself waylaid within, struggling
with faceless enemies in a labyrinth of cardboard. Best he not be
Sighing again, he drops to his knees, the notebook clutched in both
hands. He kneels for an instant, hearing the hurrying feet of those
who pass behind him. Then he places the notebook on the ceramic tile
of the station's floor and shoves it forward, beneath the corrugate
flap, and follows it on his hands and knees.
He desperately hopes that he has found the right carton. He freezes
there in unexpected light and heat. A single halogen fixture floods
the tiny room with the frequency of desert sunlight. Unventilated,
it heats the space like a reptile's cage.
"Come in," says the old man, in Japanese. "Don't leave your ass hanging
out that way." He is naked except for a sort of breechclout twisted
from what may once have been a red T-shirt. He is seated, cross-legged,
on a ragged, paint-flecked tatami mat. He holds a brightly colored
toy figure in one hand, a slender brush in the other. Yamazaki sees
that the thing is a model of some kind, a robot or military exoskeleton.
It glitters in the sun-bright light, blue and red and silver. Small
tools are spread on the tatami: a razor knife, a sprue cutter, curls
of emery paper.
The old man is very thin, clean-shaven but in need of a haircut. Wisps
of gray hair hang on either side of his face, and his mouth is set
in what looks to be a permanent scowl of disapproval. He wears glasses
with heavy black plastic frames and archaically thick lenses. The
lenses catch the light.
Yamazaki creeps obediently into the carton, feeling the door flap
drop shut behind him. On hands and knees, he resists the urge to try
"He's waiting," the old man says, his brush tip poised above the figure
in his hand. "In there." Moving only his head.
Yamazaki sees that the carton has been reinforced with mailing tubes,
a system that echoes the traditional post-and-beam architecture of
Japan, the tubes lashed together with lengths of salvaged poly-ribbon.
There are too many objects here, in this tiny space. Towels and blankets
and cooking pots on cardboard shelves. Books. A small television.
"In there?" Yamazaki indicates what he takes to be another door, like
the entrance to a hutch, curtained with a soiled square of melon-yellow,
foam-cored blanket, the sort of blanket one finds in a capsule hotel.
But the brush tip dips to touch the model, and the old man is lost
in the concentration this requires, so Yamazaki shuffles on hands
and knees across the absurdly tiny space and draws the section of
blanket aside. Darkness.
What seems to be a crumpled sleeping bag. He smells sickness-
"Yeah?" A croak. "In here."
Drawing a deep breath, Yamazaki crawls in, pushing his notebook before
him. When the melon-yellow blanket falls across the entrance, brightness
glows through the synthetic fabric and the thin foam core, like tropical
sunlight seen from deep within some coral grotto.
The American groans. Seems to turn, or sit up. Yamazaki can't see.
Something covers Laney's eyes. Red wink of a diode. Cables. Faint
gleam of the interface, reflected in a thin line against Laney's sweat-slick
"I'm deep in, now," Laney says, and coughs.
"Deep in what?"
"They didn't follow you, did they?"
"I don't think so."
"I could tell if they had."
Yamazaki feels sweat run suddenly from both his armpits, coursing
down across his ribs. He forces himself to breathe. The air here is
foul, thick. He thinks of the seventeen known strains of multi-drug-resistant
Laney draws a ragged breath. "But they aren't looking for me, are
"No," Yamazaki says, "they are looking for her."
"They won't find her," Laney says. "Not here. Not anywhere. Not now."
"Why did you run away, Laney?"
"The syndrome," Laney says and coughs again, and Yamazaki feels the
smooth, deep shudder of an incoming maglev, somewhere deeper in the
station, not mechanical vibration but a vast pistoning of displaced
air. "It finally kicked in. The 5-SB. The stalker effect." Yamazaki
hears feet hurrying by, perhaps an arm's length away, behind the cardboard
"It makes you cough?" Yamazaki blinks, making his new contact lenses
"No," Laney says and coughs into his pale and upraised hand. "Some
bug. They all have it, down here."
"I was worried when you vanished. They began to look for you, but
when she was gone-"
"The shit really hit the fan."
Laney reaches up and removes the bulky, old-fashioned eyephones. Yamazaki
cannot see what outputs to them, but the shifting light from the display
reveals Laney's hollowed eyes. "It's all going to change, Yamazaki.
We're coming up on the mother of all nodal points. I can see it, now.
It's all going to change."
"I don't understand."
"Know what the joke is? It didn't change when they thought it would.
Millennium was a Christian holiday. I've been looking at history,
Yamazaki. I can see the nodal points in history. Last time we had
one like this was 1911."
"What happened in 1911?"
"It just did. That's how it works. I can see it now."
"Laney," Yamazaki says, "when you told me about the stalker effect,
you said that the victims, the test subjects, became obsessed with
one particular media figure."
"And you are obsessed with her?"
Laney stares at him, eyes lit by a backwash of data. "No. Not with
her. Guy named Harwood. Cody Harwood. They're coming together, though.
In San Francisco. And someone else. Leaves a sort of negative trace;
you have to infer everything from the way he's not there..."
"Why did you ask me here, Laney? This is a terrible place. Do you
wish me to help you to escape?" Yamazaki is thinking of the blades
of the Swiss Army knife in his pocket. One of them is serrated; he
could easily cut his way out through the wall. Yet the psychological
space is powerful, very powerful, and overwhelms him. He feels very
far from Shinjuku, from Tokyo, from anything. He smells Laney's sweat.
"You are not well."
"Rydell," Laney says, replacing the eyephones. "That rent-a-cop from
the Chateau. The one you knew. The one who told me about you, back
"I need a man on the ground, in San Francisco. I've managed to move
some money. I don't think they can trace it. I dicked with DatAmerica's
banking sector. Find Rydell and tell him he can have it as a retainer."
"To do what?"
Laney shakes his head. The cables on the eyephones move in the dark
like snakes. "He has to be there, is all. Something's coming down.
"Laney, you are sick. Let me take you-"
"Back to the island? There's nothing there. Never will be, now she's
And Yamazaki knows this is true.
"Where's Rez?" Laney asks.
"He mounted a tour of the Kombinat states, when he decided she was
Laney nods thoughtfully, the eyephones bobbing mantis-like in the
dark. "Get Rydell, Yamazaki. I'll tell you how he can get the money."
"Because he's part of it. Part of the node."
Later Yamazaki stands, staring up at the towers of Shinjuku, the walls
of animated light, sign and signifier twisting toward the sky in the
unending ritual of commerce, of desire. Vast faces fill the screens,
icons of a beauty at once terrible and banal.
Somewhere below his feet, Laney huddles and coughs in his cardboard
shelter, all of DatAmerica pressing steadily into his eyes. Laney
is his friend, and his friend is unwell. The American's peculiar talents
with data are the result of experimental trials, in a federal orphanage
in Florida, of a substance known as 5-SB. Yamazaki has seen what Laney
can do with data, and what data can do to Laney.
He has no wish to see it again.
As he lowers his eyes from the walls of light, the mediated faces,
he feels his contacts move, changing as they monitor his depth of
focus. This still unnerves him.
Not far from the station, down a side street bright as day, he finds
the sort of kiosk that sells anonymous debit cards. He purchases one.
At another kiosk, he uses it to buy a disposable phone good for a
total of thirty minutes, Tokyo-LA.
He asks his notebook for Rydell's number.
--From "All Tomorrow's Parties" by William Gibson. (c) October, 1999
, William Gibson used by permission.