Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch
It is ten years since the attack that reduced Pittsburgh to ashes. Today all that remains is the Archive: an interactive digital record of the city and its people.
John Dominic Blaxton is a survivor, one of the ‘lucky ones’ who escaped the blast. Crippled by the loss of his wife and unborn daughter, he spends his days immersed in the Archive with the ghosts of yesterday.
It is there he finds the digital record of a body: a woman, lying face down, half buried in mud. Who is she … and why is someone hacking into the system and deleting the record of her seemingly unremarkable life? This question will drag Dominic from the darkest corners of the past into a deadly and very present nightmare.
When thousands die in a tragedy does the death of one more victim mean anything? That’s the jumping off point for Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch. In near future America a bomb levels Pittsburgh. The entire US is consumed by grief at the scale of the atrocity. Using the latest technology to create a virtual representation of the city, an electronic archive is created to recapture all events in the city leading up to its final moments.
John Blaxton works within this archive. Once an academic, the loss of his family during the bombing has motivated him to become a researcher to try and help put back together the jigsaw of ruined lives that has been left behind. He is completely consumed by the events of a decade ago. In his job he spends countless hours replaying every day events, tracking virtual ghosts in the virtual city. You can’t help but feel for Blaxton, he’s little more than a ghost himself. Stuck in a grey half-life, a self-imposed limbo, he is unable to let go of his past, unwilling move on.
Blaxton’s ongoing investigations lead him in some dark directions and it’s not long before he discovers that there is far more going on with the body in the mud than initially appears. This is a crime within a crime, and the writing intricately weaves an engrossing conspiracy for the reader to uncover. The final revelations are suitably shocking, I’ll admit even I was a little surprised just how nasty some of the moments in the plot are. Upon reflection however the tone of the ending does fit is well with its dark subject matter.
There seems to be a flurry of new future science fiction appearing on our shelves of late. Recently I read Skinjob by Bruce McCabe and it touches upon some similar themes. Both track the fallout from a terrorist bombing. The difference between the two is that where Skinjob picks up events immediately after a tragedy Tomorrow and Tomorrow is more focused on their long term legacy.
There is a danger that any plot focussed on such a horrific catalyst has the potential to become maudlin or downbeat, but I didn’t really experience that. Yes, there are undoubtedly a plethora of bittersweet moments peppered throughout the narrative and they do add extra poignancy to events, but there is also ultimately a sense of hope. In many respects this novel is about Blaxton learning to live again, learning how to make peace with the ghosts of the past, and accept them.
In the background of the main narrative, Sweterlitsch dissects the intrusion of mass media and how it impacts daily life. Adware in particular is an intriguing concept. It’s the next generation of the Internet, an unobtrusive device that is directly wired into the wearer’s brain allowing constant 24/7 access to the web. Social media, targeted marketing and location specific advertisements appear directly in a user’s field of vision. Think something along the lines of Google Glass extrapolated to the nth degree and you’ll get the idea. Elsewhere some of what passes for entertainment in Sweterlitsch’s vision of America is reminiscent of moments from films like The Running Man, Minority Report or Robocop, everything from public executions presided over by the President, to reality TV where the winner gets to bed their favourite movie starlet.
This is an interesting debut, far more introspective than I think I was expecting. Sweterlitsch deftly picks apart the trauma of his main protagonist and explores the nature of obsession and loss. If you’re looking for an engrossing thriller with some nice sci-fi flourishes you need look no further. Be warned however, this one is going to leave an impression and its going to make you think.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow is published by Headline and is available now.