The Gone-Away World: Relentlessly ironic, digressive, and clever

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The Gone-Away World by Nick HarkawayThe Gone-Away World by Nick HarkawayThe Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway

The Gone-Away World (2008) is a post-apocalyptic comedy/tragedy about our world before and after the Gone-Away Bombs have wiped up out much of humanity and the world we know. It is about Gonzo Lubitsch and his nameless best friend, who work for a special crew that is assigned to put of a fire along the Jorgmond pipeline, which produced the special material “Fox” that can eliminate the Stuff, the matter that is left over after gone-away bombs have removed the information from matter so that it no longer can form coherent form and structure. Stuff takes on the shape of the thoughts of people near it — nightmarish monsters, ill-formed creatures, and “new people.” Nightmares become real, and the world itself is a nightmare of sorts.

And very soon after the story begins, we are wrenched back into Gonzo and his friend’s upbringing and bizarre early years learning kung-fu from Master Wu. The Gone-Away World is a long story that absolutely revels in its digressions and manic humor that relentlessly attacks the insanity of the military weapons mentality and the soul-destroying nature of corporations and conformity. It devotes a lot of time to ninjas and martial arts and military training, the cruel absurdity of war zones and civilian casualties, weird desert nomad tribes, and then the surreal post-apocalyptic communities of Mad Max-like survivors and predators clinging to a precarious survival.

It is also about friendships and identity, as the characters fall into and out of different roles and situations, constantly shifting. Everything is maniacally sarcastic, filled with tragic irony and withering contempt for corporate rapacious greed. There are so many digressions that even the digressions have digressions. The story veers from one situation and tone to another, and then two-thirds of the way in, a shocking turn of the plot turns the entire story on its head and changes our understanding of everything that came before, and the final third of the book is truly different from what came before.

The story flies through some powerful and grim examinations of war, destruction, greed, and societal collapse, and yet retains a dogged insistence on making an ironic and ultra-clever quotable comment on the whole glorious mess. It is self-indulgent and digressive and deeply morally-insistent all at the same time. The relationship of the narrator and Gonzo is a fascinating thing, and changes dramatically and suddenly mid-way through. The book could have used a much tougher editor — it’s like listening to your brilliant friend talking a mile a minute, both exhilarating and exhausting. It reminded me somewhat of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, with its larger-than-life characters, lengthy descriptions and elaborate language and humor.

If you are in the mood for a completely different and bizarre literary SF satire on our world, this may be worth a try.

Published in 2008. A wildly entertaining debut novel, introducing a bold new voice that combines antic humor with a stunning futuristic vision to give us an electrifyingly original tale of love, friendship and the apocalypse. There couldn’t be a fire along the Jorgmund Pipe. It was the last thing the world needed. But there it was, burning bright on national television. The Pipe was what kept the Livable Zone safe from the bandits, monsters and nightmares the Go Away War had left in its wake. The fire was a very big problem. Enter Gonzo Lubitsch and his friends, the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company, a team of master troubleshooters who roll into action when things get particularly hot. They helped build the Pipe. Now they have to preserve it—and save humanity yet again. But this job is not all it seems. It will touch more closely on Gonzo’s life, and that of his best friend, than either of them can imagine. And it will decide the fate of the Gone-Away World. Equal parts raucous adventure, comic odyssey, geek nirvana and ultracool epic, The Gone-Away Worldis a story of—among other things—pirates, war, mimes, greed and ninjas. But it is also the story of a world, not unlike our own, in desperate need of heroes—however unlikely they may seem.

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STUART STAROSTA, on our staff from March 2015 to November 2018, is a lifelong SFF reader who makes his living reviewing English translations of Japanese equity research. Despite growing up in beautiful Hawaii, he spent most of his time reading as many SFF books as possible. After getting an MA in Japanese-English translation in Monterey, CA, he lived in Tokyo, Japan for about 15 years before moving to London in 2017 with his wife, daughter, and dog named Lani. Stuart's reading goal is to read as many classic SF novels and Hugo/Nebula winners as possible, David Pringle's 100 Best SF and 100 Best Fantasy Novels, along with newer books & series that are too highly-praised to be ignored. His favorite authors include Philip K Dick, China Mieville, Iain M. Banks, N.K. Jemisin, J.G. Ballard, Lucius Shepard, Neal Stephenson, Kurt Vonnegut, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Ursula K. LeGuin, Guy Gavriel Kay, Arthur C. Clarke, H.G. Wells, Olaf Stapledon, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mervyn Peake, etc.

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