The Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch (book review).

April 27, 2018 | By | Reply More

I always get nervous when the promotion line compares to other things out there and thinks there’s a match. More so, when I read and find it doesn’t. Case in point with ‘The Gone World’ by Tom Sweterlitsch, on the cover it says ‘True Detective meets 12 Monkeys’ and when reading, find the book is based on ‘CSI’ and still waiting for the time travel to happen 100 pages in. Hardly surprising as one of the lead characters, Shannon Moss, is a CSI officer but only for a time, even if the initials change throughout. I can’t help think Sweterlitsch watches far too much television.

The prologue starts in 2199 where Shannon once lived, we shift back to 1997 where she is also an amputee FBI agent and she’s part of a team hunting a missing girl, Marion, when the lead suspect, US SEAL Patrick Mursult killed his family and himself and also removed all their fingernails. As the story develops, there are at least three other murders by the same person over a 20 year time period that she is also involved in. Much of this story is pretty much a police story with only the odd reference to the end of the world where Shannon lost part of her leg due to gangrene where a lot of people were burnt.

There is also a section in 2015-2016, where the spaceship Grey Dove and gets caught into a quantum link and Shannon is thrown into the far future but later finds herself brought back into the past. I’m still trying to make sense of just do these Vardogger trees actually do. If you’re going to be quantum entangled, why to a set of trees and only one area?

There is reference made to Type 2 diabetics can lose limbs due to their condition but this is less likely than compared to Type 1.

What makes this book hard to follow is why would a starship in the near future be caught up in a series of murders in the past that none of the crew should have any connection to other than make it easier for the author to write? Although it looks like quantum entanglement that allows a form of time travel, Shannon rarely dwells on it or how she is drawn to other times when she needs to go there.

Without giving too much away, on one occasion she really gets severely beaten and yet the emotional impact of it is ignored by Sweterlitsch. Not sharing the pain is a big mistake. As this is mostly a first person novel, you would have thought Shannon would be talking with a blocked nose for a while. A failure in emotional content is very worrying considering all the detail in this book. In fact, there’s so much detail that it is hiding a very basic plot. The problem of detailing all the time is the inability to change long sentences when you need a change of pace in the need of action. Thankfully, the text is at least readable but you do need a scorecard to know what is going on. There is some explanation as to what is going on.

The SF element is having echoes of your various selves appearing and, indeed, dying in the past. If they are only echoes, does that mean no one has actually died? It does become problematic when Shannon Moss appears in the past and we don’t see her referencing the relevance or knowledge of her time in the future. That tends to make me think the story hasn’t been thought through far enough. Too much detail hides the weaknesses of the plot which switches from first to third person throughout the sections. A bit more work would have resolved these issues.

I came away from this book thinking so what? There is a writer wriggling under this book and I suspect Sweterlitsch will improve with future books, but he really needs to work on his plotting. Detective stories, no matter the genre, need to be written by clear thinkers and ensuring that the reader can unravel the mystery with the protagonist. When something is sprung in the end section and still makes less sense there is a matter of worry. If Sweterlitsch was any good at crime stories, he might find it easier to write in that genre. Trying to do it in SF, needs a higher level of writing rather than relying on a ‘CSI’ aspect to put it across.

GF Willmetts

April 2018

(pub: Headline. 388 page enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4722-1498-0)

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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