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The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch

Shannon Moss is part of a clandestine division within the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. In Western Pennsylvania, 1997, she is assigned to solve the murder of a Navy SEAL’s family–and to locate his teenage daughter, who has disappeared. Though she can’t share the information with conventional law enforcement, Moss discovers that the missing SEAL was an astronaut aboard the spaceship U.S.S. Libra–a ship assumed lost to the darkest currents of Deep Time. Moss knows first-hand the mental trauma of time-travel and believes the SEAL’s experience with the future has triggered this violence.

Determined to find the missing girl and driven by a troubling connection from her own past, Moss travels ahead in time to explore possible versions of the future, seeking evidence or insight that will crack the present-day case. To her horror, the future reveals that it’s not only the fate of a family that hinges on her work, for what she witnesses rising over time’s horizon and hurtling toward the present is the Terminus: the terrifying and cataclysmic end of humanity itself.

I read Tomorrow and Tomorrow back when it was released back in 2014. I loved it.  I’ve been waiting patiently for Tom Sweterlitsch’s next book and I’m pleased to say it is finally here.

What is worse than the end of the world? How about knowing that the end of the world is coming and everything you try to do to stop it is only making things worse. All you know for definite is that the end of humanity is getting closer and closer. Scientists have discovered a way to travel to the end of humanity, the Terminus. Modified space exploration has allowed secret missions into the future, and ultimately, to the end of the world.

When we first meet NCIS agent Shannon Moss, she has already fallen foul of time travel. As a young recruit, she was trapped during a mission and lost her leg in the ensuing rescue. Shannon is more than a little aware how dangerous the Terminus is, and it appears her latest case has a direct link to this cataclysmic event. Agent Moss is in a fairly unique position in this novel. She jumps around in timelines and witnesses the direct impact of how decisions, large or small, create different outcomes. There is a growing weariness to her character that feels almost palpable. Her life, jumping around in time and space, gets so draining that she gets to the point where you can tell she just wants it all to stop. Every action, and every reaction is focussed on trying to avert a global disaster and it is grinding away at her core. At one point you discover Shannon is a runner, and it feels like the perfect analogy to the rest of her character. Shannon is compelled to keep moving forward. If she falls all she can do is get back up and start again. That sense of grim determination makes her an endlessly fascinating protagonist.

The Gone World is mind-bending stuff. The characters that Shannon meets become echoes of themselves in alternate timelines. Different decisions led individuals down completely different pathways. In one timeline someone could be friend or a colleague, in another an enemy. The only constant is Shannon. The difficulty she faces is trying to untangle this quantum entanglement*. Ok, I’ll admit I’m not even sure if that statement is scientifically accurate. Some of the more complicated scientific theories this book uses as a basis for the story are way over my head. It didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel however. The key thing I think we can all learn from The Gone World is doing science in space or multiple time periods is very, very bad.

It’s not all about the science though. There is also a theological element that becomes more evident the further into the story you read. The narrative is peppered with recurring symbolism, Christian and other religions play a part in the motivations of some characters. Makes a certain amount of sense, we are squarely in the realms of apocalyptic fiction after all. Every religion has its own idea of how the world is going to end.

There is also plenty of action. Shannon is attempting to solve a murder and there are plenty of people who want to try and stop her. This mix of action, scientific discovery, theological debate and good old-fashioned thriller make for a heady mix.

I’ll be honest, I’m always a bit anxious when it comes to science fiction that contains time travel. I worry it is too easy to lose the thread of what is going on. My concerns in this instance were entirely groundless. Sweterlitsch deftly keeps the action moving along as it switches between 1997 and 2016 then back again. The Gone World is the literary equivalent of three card monte. You need to keep your eye on the plot at all times to ensure you can find the lady. The final third of the novel messed with my brain in the most delightful way. I love fiction that keeps you on your toes.

To compliment The Gone World, I decided to listen to the soundtrack for Mr Robot, Vol 1 by Mac Quayle. There was something about the music that fit seamlessly with the overall tone of the novel. If you get the opportunity, I would suggest listening to one whilst reading the other.

The Gone World is published by Headline and is available now. It is well worth your time if you like sci-fi that is going to make you think.

I can also heartily recommend checking out the films from Oats Studios that Mr Sweterlitsch co-wrote with Neill Blomkamp, he of District Nine fame. They are wonderfully creative shorts that blend science fiction and horror together perfectly. Firebase is a particular favourite, it even treads some thematically similar ground to The Gone World.

*I just (tried to) read a definition of quantum entanglement. I’m none the wiser.

The Gone World

New From: £8.69 GBP In Stock
Release date February 6, 2018.

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