Title: The Gone World
Author: Tom Sweterlitsch
Genre: Science Fiction, Thriller
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: February 2019
Paperback: 400 pages
“I promise you have never read a story like this.”—Blake Crouch, New York Times bestselling author of Dark Matter
Inception meets True Detective in this science fiction thriller of spellbinding tension and staggering scope that follows a special agent into a savage murder case with grave implications for the fate of mankind…
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 vanished teenage daughter. 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 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 to 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.
Luminous and unsettling, The Gone World bristles with world-shattering ideas yet remains at its heart an intensely human story.
Stand alone or series: Standalone novel
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Print
Let me begin this review with some level-setting: Every once in a while, you read a book that is special. Not only does it suck you in from the onset, enthralling you with its killer premise and even more promising characters–this particular breed of novel manages to deliver on all of that potential, and rock your fucking world.
Such is The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch.
You dig it? Cool.
Shannon Moss is a federal law enforcement agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) in 1997. Born and raised in a small, middle of nowhere town, Shannon’s life at first appears to be writ in the stars: a pretty young woman, who would get pregnant young, work a local job, probably end up drinking and entertaining men at the local bar, growing old and living and dying in the same place. But when she’s is in high school her best friend Courtney is abducted and murdered, altering the course of Shannon’s life forever. Instead of giving up, Shannon uses the anger and sadness of her friend’s death and turns to a career in law enforcement, and in so doing, catches the eye of a recruiter for a secretive, elite division of the Navy called Deep Waters–part of the Naval Space Command operating in deep space and deep time.
To other law enforcement officials and unsuspecting civilians, Moss is an agent who investigates crimes involving members of the Navy; in reality, Moss is one of a select few agents who can travel in time to myriad alternate futures in order to accomplish her work. All the while, the overarching mission of Deep Waters is to stop the end of all life on Earth, called the Terminus. At some point in the future, a second sun will appear in the sky above Earth–a white star that will turn all of humankind mad, distorting reality and sanity until nothing remains. The Terminus used to appear in distant futures, first clocked in 2666. But then it appeared to a new traveler in 2456, and then again to 2121, and so on, ever closer to terra firma in 1997–the true place of time. You see, while Moss and her fellow agents can travel to the future, each future is just a possibility, a so-called IFT: inatdmissible future trajectory. The future is mercurial, and a traveler’s journey represents a possibility stemming from the conditions of the present. The sole traveler to an IFT is the only real thing in her visited possible future. There is only one direction for the true flow of time, only one terra firma.
In the terra firma of 1997, Shannon Moss receives a new case: an ex-Navy SEAL Patrick Mursult appears to have murdered his entire family, and has disappeared along with his teenage daughter. The suspect was a member of the Deep Waters program and Moss is assigned to work alongside the FBI to save the missing girl and bring Mursult to justice. What Shannon discovers, however, is that Mursult’s involvement in Deep Waters is paradoxical–part of a ship that ceased to exist–and his appearance may have drastic, terrible consequences for the actual future. Traveling to an IFT in 2016 to help solve the case, Moss also finds that the Terminus has jumped even closer…
“Lambs are sacrificed but rats survive.”
The Gone World isn’t Tom Sweterlitsch’s first book, but it is the first one that I’ve read–and holy crap is it mind-bendingly, time travelingly awesome. I absolutely loved the concept of time travel in this book, with the past being fixed and unreachable, and the future is a myriad of possibilities. Not truths, and not even real; just a prism of potential, containing echoes of people living out a hypothetical existence. All of that potential, all of those echoes, they cease to exist once the sole time traveler returns to terra firma–unless they happen to bring an echo back with them. (Sweterlitsch explores some of the more horrific ways that unethical time travelers may use this to their advantage–“they aren’t really people!”–to brutal and terrible ends.) I also love that time travel isn’t just a machine or portal that turns on and all is good; there are spaceships and complex maneuvers that need to be executed to traverse IFTs, and for the traveler’s biological clock, time runs in one direction. Moss may be twenty five in terra firma, but because of all she has done in her career and the many trips she’s taken to possible futures, she’s actually closer to her mid-thirties.
Time travel aside, the real reason why The Gone World works is because of its heroine, Shannon Moss. An amputee–she lost her leg in her first mission to see the Terminus–Moss is an agent who has experienced more than her share of past traumas, and emerged all the more focused because of them. The murder of her best friend as a teenager sent Shannon down a self-destructive path until she decided to focus on criminal justice and law enforcement; her determination and history of screwing up but then finding her path leads her to the Deep Waters program. Shannon is tough and smart, but not invulnerable or cocky–she makes mistakes and owns up to them, all the while trying desperately to save a teenage girl who reminds her so much of her lost friend Courtney, and save all of humanity from a Terminus that jumps timelines, ever closer to terra firma. I fucking loved Shannon.
And of course, the other really really cool part of this book is that it is a thriller–there is a violent killer on the loose–in the vein of True Detective. It’s also an exercise in time travel, focusing on the physics of jumping through time and space, on par with the very best hard, mechanical science fiction novels, complete with prismatic, ever-compounding alternate futures. And it’s also like The X-Files (a show that Moss watches and enjoys), but imagine Scully is a time traveling NCIS agent.
My favorite read of the summer, and maybe the whole year. Absolutely recommended.
Rating: 9 – Brilliant