All Tomorrow’s Parties is a hologram. Oh, the new novel by William Gibson – author of 1984’s groundbreaking ”Neuromancer” and, famously, the man who invented the concept of cyberspace – looks like a book all right. It has heft; it involves printed words on paper.
But just as a hologram uses the interference patterns of two sources of light to create something that appears to be more than the sum of its parts but is, in fact, less, so ”Parties” combines the themes, characters, and settings of Gibson’s previous two novels into a futuristic chimera. You can’t touch this story. And it certainly doesn’t touch you.
Frustrating? You bet. In the years since ”Neuromancer” came out, presaging such developments as the World Wide Web, virtual reality, the hacker mystique, and ”The Matrix,” Gibson has struggled to match the dour pop power of that cyberpunk classic. He’s had varying degrees of success, but with 1993’s ”Virtual Light” and 1996’s ”Idoru,” he reclaimed his gift.
”All Tomorrow’s Parties” promises more of the same. Even the title, a Velvet Underground reference, hints at the pop-music arcana that studded earlier Gibson novels (the songs of Steely Dan practically constitute a sub rosa concordance to ”Neuromancer” and its two sequels). Instead, the author uses the characters from the previous two books to prop up an empty house.
”Idoru”’s Colin Laney, whose freakish gift allows him to glean meaning from oceans of data, returns as a Tokyo subway vagrant convinced that a Y2K-style info-pocalypse is at hand. ”Virtual Light”’s dauntless bike messenger Chevette Washington winds her way back to the Bay Bridge and resumes a wary romance with rent-a-cop Berry Rydell. Flitting around the edges is Rei Toei, the beautiful, wise, and 100 percent holographic diva who was the title character and unsettling centerpiece of ”Idoru.”
In many Gibson novels, the climactic plot turn occurs virtually off stage, and it’s not until later that you realize what an immense, mind-blowing event has transpired. ”All Tomorrow’s Parties” runs true to form, but for the first time there’s no deeper resonance.
How can there be when the world in which the characters move has been only roughly penciled in? Without spoiling the end, I’ll just say that holography is revealed as having a soul. It’s a measure of a reader’s disappointment that you can’t say the same for the book.