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The Gone World


The Gone World

When an author I respect like Blake Crouch is blurbed on the front cover of a novel stating, “I promise you have never read a story like this,” I'm all ears. All I can tell you is that Crouch was right, but way too subtle.

Tom Sweterlitsch's amazing second book, THE GONE WORLD, is completely indefinable. All at once, it combines science fiction and thriller with classic crime noir, time travel, existentialism, philosophy, religion and end-of-the-world scenarios, all strung together in the style of the best literary fiction you will find out there today. At its truest moments, the novel is dreamlike and alluring, and then the coin flips quickly to the other side and you are in a nightmare world where there is no escape.

Because there is crime and a murder at its heart, the book reminded me very much of Philip K. Dick's THE MINORITY REPORT. In that story, the Precrime System was actually able to take down criminals before they committed the act that would incarcerate them --- in some cases, even before they had the first thought of doing anything wrong. In THE GONE WORLD you get a taste of that, plus an ever-approaching apocalypse that gets closer with each jump forward in time.

"Tom Sweterlitsch has created an all-time original story that is both genre-breaking and trendsetting. I can promise you that you will not soon forget THE GONE WORLD... Buckle up and prepare for a bumpy and eye-opening thrill ride."

Allow me to explain. In the present, or terra firma, of THE GONE WORLD, it’s 1997. However, we are instantly teased up front with a prologue set in the year 2199. It depicts a frightening image of a white forest that seems to go on forever, with dead branches reaching upwards, an image that should not be intimidating but speaks to something altogether too frightening for words. This area is known as the White Hole, or territory that was once called West Virginia. The year 1997 introduces us to Special Agent Shannon Moss, who works for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service --- military infused with crime-fighting. You see, it's the Navy that possesses the technology to time travel, and they use different terms like Deep Waters or Deep Time. They have sent several naval ships or spaceships through time, and their missions have often changed the present by way of altering the future or the past.

The spaceship U.S.S. Libra was assumed lost in the currents of Deep Time. When it was eventually found and brought back to the present, there seemed to be some secret that spread among the crew’s survivors. What had they seen, and was it something they would kill to preserve? One of the ship’s astronauts, Patrick Mursult, is brutally murdered, along with his family. However, his young daughter, Marian, is missing from the death scene, and the house where the family was killed was familiar to Moss. In fact, she used to live on that same street, and her friend, Courtney Gimm, had resided in that very home --- and something happened to Courtney as well.

The missing girl is the key, and it is up to Moss to find out why. The questions all start and end with Mursult. Was his ship ever really lost? If so, then he shouldn't exist. Could the members of Libra and those who killed/silenced Mursult have found the ability to travel between time, between separate existences? If that is true, then how can Moss and her superiors --- men like the irascible Nestor, the wise O'Connor, and her mentor, Wally Njoku --- really know who they are dealing with? And if multiple realities can fold on each other, how can they possibly solve these present-day crimes?

With that being said, they continue to send Moss forward into the future. She is gone from her present reality for what seems like only the blink of an eye, but in some cases she has spent as much as a year in the future. Each time she comes back, she learns something new that can be used to change outcomes in the present and, of course, rechart the future. All the while, the powers that be are aware of something they refer to as Terminus, or the actual End of Days. The timeline they charted initially had it taking place as soon as 2067.

However, in the last act of the novel, Moss is sent to 2017. This follows devastating events in the present day whereby she is able to stop a terrorist attack she learned of in one of the future realities she visited, but it leads to the death of her closest companion on the job. One of the first things she does when she arrives in 2017 is pick up a transmission O'Connor sent her from the year 2014. He warned her that Terminus is now scheduled for December 2017 and that she should just turn around, if it hasn't started already.

All the while, the nightmare white forest --- with visions of an endless army of souls crucified upside down for eternity --- haunts the dreams and visions of Moss, and she fears that this eternal forest may be her destiny.

I'm exhausted just writing this review, but nowhere near as drained as I was from reading the book. Tom Sweterlitsch has created an all-time original story that is both genre-breaking and trendsetting. I can promise you that you will not soon forget THE GONE WORLD, and my words here have only skimmed the surface of what is bubbling beneath the novel. I don't think a film adaptation, if ever considered, could come close to the experience of reading it. Buckle up and prepare for a bumpy and eye-opening thrill ride.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 6, 2018

The Gone World
by Tom Sweterlitsch