Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mount TBR #38

I read this book for the Mount TBR Reading Challenge hosted over at My Reader’s Block from January 1 – December 31, 2015. The challenge is to read books that you already own.

All Tomorrow’s Parties – William Gibson

This 1999 novel has its dystopic elements, as we would expect from the author of the famous story Neuromancer. Digital technology is everywhere and it even mostly kind of works except when it is twitchy and doesn’t. The fear of litigation permeates the smallest interactions. Inexplicit natural and man-made disasters have broken up the United States – in fact, California has divided into North and South. The economy lacks manufacturing jobs so working class people live lives that are nasty brutish and short. The corporate bad guys are at once cynical and naïve:

I want the advent of a degree of functional nanotechnology in a world that will remain recognizably descended from the one I woke in this morning. I want my world transfigured, yet I want my place in that world to be equivalent to the one I now occupy. I want to have my cake and eat it too. I want a free lunch. And I've found the way to have it, it seems. Though you have too. And what, we have to ask ourselves, went wrong there?

To cope with change generated by technology and environmental collapse, people have taken to living in densely populated, largely ungoverned enclaves. Readers familiar with Kowloon’s Walled City in Hong Kong will recall the settlement in an old fort, where about 35,000 people lived in 6.5 acres. Unlike the Walled City, however, the Bridge in this novel is not controlled by anybody, much less crime gangs, nor are there inordinate amounts of street crime due to drug use, prostitution, or gambling.

Gibson’s portrayal of this spontaneous government will warm the hearts of idealists and anarchists. Gibson’s point, I think, is that if left pretty much alone by cops, business, and crooks, people will get along alright in their civic lives. He grants, however, in scenes that remind me of Oliver Twist, that pressures on the poor will lead to unfortunate behavior.

Gibson’s characters are, again as usual, the parade of the lost, lonely, and desperate. Not to mention the seekers and the clinically disturbed. But the character Fontane is a good stoic, picking up a broom to clean up after his shop has been semi-demolished. Keeping busy, because, in the end, that’s the way to keep on keeping on.

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