Fiction Reviews

Tomorrow and Tomorrow

(2014) Thomas Sweterlitsch, Headline, 7.99, pbk, 304pp, ISBN 978-1-472-21486-7


In the not too distant future, Pittsburgh has been destroyed by a terrorist atomic bomb. In the years that follow, its survivors re-live life in the city and those of their dead friends through the Archive; it is a virtual environment gleaned from security cameras, internet maps, people's blogs and social network sites and all meshed together by smart programs. One survivor, John Dominic Blaxton, gets a job working as a detective, mainly for insurance claims, in the Archive. It is in the archive that he finds the body of a woman's body, head down in the mud. Who is she? Why is someone unpicking the records of who she was and where she had been in the archive? If Dominic can control his urge to undertake drug-enhanced forays into the archive to visit his late wife a victim of the bomb he might just get some answers. Until, that is, circumstances happen to get in the way. But is there ever any such thing as coincidence?

Set in a dystopic future of high security and fear-driven, right wing politics Thomas Sweterlitsch brings us a noir-style detective story reminiscent of a modern William Gibson crossed with Paul McAuley in near-mundane SF mode and not to mention the ubiquitous influence of Philip K. Dick. This is classic old-fashioned, new-wave cyberpunk. ('Old fashioned'? Gosh, I can remember when cyberpunk was itself new but its influence in recent years seems to have waned.) But this is 2014 and this is a cyberpunk novel, and a powerful one at that. Given that this is also a debut novel does make it all the more remarkable and I'd be surprised if it does not at least make the long-list of a few SF awards: it certainly deserves to.

The cyberpunk elements are self-evident throughout the novel. The near-future portrayed sees most people with wi-fi hard-implants connecting them to the internet. And so individuals need shielding from adware, protected from hacking and to sufficiently street savvy not to fall prey to hawkers, huckster, let alone outright criminals of the on-line world. And then there are the corporations and politicians using online techniques and the virtual world to further their own bids for wealth and power.

So what we end up with in Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a gritty, noire thriller set firmly on the SF side of the genre's border with that of techno-thrillers. Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a portrayal of a nightmare future that scarily seems all too likely if we carry on sleepwalking into the embrace of the early twenty-first century cyber hive.

Jonathan Cowie

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