TITLE: Tomorrow and Tomorrow
AUTHOR: Thomas Sweterlitsch
PUBLISHER: Putnam, July 2014
THE BOOK: In the near future the city of Pittsburgh has been destroyed in a nuclear blast, and even though John Dominic Blaxton was out of town when the bomb went off, he never recovered from the loss of his wife. Ten years after the tragedy, the Pittsburgh Archive is a digital recreation of the city and its people that serves as a virtual environment survivors and tourists alike can visit. Dominic takes a job at an insurance company investigating death benefit claims mainly so he can spend endless hours in the Archive, with his dead wife. His job is to ensure that people really did die during the blast, and he encounters a strange case of a woman murdered just before the city was destroyed. He tries to pursue this mystery, but before he gets very far, he is fired using illegal drugs to enhance his experience of the virtual reality of the Archive. Luckily, a new job offer comes his way. A rich man has discovered that all traces of his daughter Albion are being erased from the Archive, and wants Dominic to use his talents to find his daughter virtually. As he investigates the tampering in the archive, Dominic is in danger of losing everything he cares about.
MY TAKE: This one rang all my bells, starting with being one of my favorite blends, the Science Fiction Mystery. I love books that take genuinely interesting puzzles, but add the layer of a futuristic setting. Dominic’s emotions are so raw, his grief so deep, and it is all on the page because of the author’s choice to present his story in the style of a journal. I don’t want to give too much away, as the path that this puzzle takes to build and snare Dominic is really a big part of the appeal. The futuristic element all work well, and work well together (more on that below), and moreover they all seem very possible. Except maybe for the fact that it was Pittsburgh that was targeted for annihilation. I mean honestly, why Pittsburgh?
THE GENRES: Science Fiction: Having this setting be just a few steps into our future allows an easy bridge for those not really into SF. The technologies are all things that we have already, taken farther along their logical developmental paths. The adware implants that everyone has installed are believable and horrible, shoving ads specifically targeted for the viewer right into your brain. The implants have trade-off though (or else who would ever submit to them?) that allow users instantaneous information access. There is a heavy blanket of surveillance on society, but it seems completely accepted, which makes it even scarier, really. The constant surveillance is of course what made the Archive possible. Personal cameras, traffic cameras, surveillance cameras all feed their footage together and was stitched into a vivid virtual world that users can feel like they inhabit, especially with some pharmaceutical help. Sweterlitsch cleverly drops bits of his worldbuilding into the narrative so that we get a picture of the near future filled with violent reality shows and anything-goes internet. Mystery/Thriller: There are a couple of really juicy mysteries in Tomorrow and Tomorrow. The initial discovery by Dominic of the dead body in the weeds off the Nine Mile Run in Pittsburgh sparks an obsessive desire to find out what happened to her. The other mystery of who is deleting Albion from the Archive (and why) is where the author gets to show off his chops, as Dominic must be extremely clever to track traces of the hackers. His digging uncovers plots and ugly secrets, and but the stakes are raised even higher when people threaten the thing he values the most: access to his own wife in the Archive. There is a very noir vibe and a bleakness that fits this novel squarely in the cyberpunk category for me. The dark side of technology has rarely been darker than in this dystopian future.
RATING: 9/10 Practically Perfect
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