The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
Reviewed by Sara Patterson
ISBN: 0099519976 (Paperback)
Windmill Books — 592 pages. Audiobook/Hardcover/Ebook also available.
Imagine a technology that can erase the molecular building blocks, the information, of matter itself— making it simply “go away.” What would humanity do with such an amazing accomplishment? Why, turn it into a weapon, of course. A weapon capable of winning wars… and ultimately changing the face of the world forever.
It is in the aftermath of the terrible “Go-Away War,” that we meet the main character along with his childhood best friend and fellow ex-special forces solider Gonzo Lubitsch and their compatriots—members of the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company. The team is recruited by Jorgmund, a mysterious and powerful corporation with seemingly endless influence, to protect the world’s greatest asset.
The war and its “Go Away bombs” had an unexpected side effect: Wisps of code-less matter, dubbed “stuff”, sweep across the world and, when it comes in contact with human dreams—or nightmares—, it solidifies and becomes reality. But Jorgmand had found a solution to this problem in the form of FOX, a chemical that neutralizes the effects of “stuff” and makes the surrounding areas familiar and safe. The Jorgmund Pipe, a pipeline network which loops the entire world like a belt, distributes the FOX, thus keeping a small population of humanity able to live relatively normal lives—until now. Someone has set fire to the Jorgmund pipe, and it is up to the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company to find out who and stop them.
When I started The Gone-Away World, I can say that it was not the sort of book I usually read. For starters, I had trouble bonding with the nameless (and for the most part unremarkable) main character despite the fact that the novel follows him as he recounts nearly his entire life and then some. There were also various tangents throughout the novel—mostly political and theological themed but also one very long backstory for a very minor side-character—that were, quite literally, sleep-inducing.
That said, the world that Harkaway built, destroyed, and built again was fascinating. The complex network of events and characters raised some very intriguing questions. Some seemed unimportant and others downright ridiculous given the state of the world, but I was eager to see how all the threads would finally come together. Which brings me to my final praise for The Gone-Away World. Though the epic moment of clarity is a long time coming, Harkness more than delivers in the end—and with a kick-ass fight scene to boot.
In short, The Gone-Away World is an investment, in both time and thought. But, in this reader’s opinion, it was a challenge well worth it.