Thomas Sweterlitsch – Tomorrow and Tomorrow

thomassweterlitsch-tomorrowandtomorrowIt is ten years since the attack that reduced Pittsburgh to ashes. Today all that remains is the Archive: an interactive digital record of the city and its people.

John Dominic Blaxton is a survivor, one of the ‘lucky ones’ who escaped the blast. Crippled by the loss of his wife and unborn daughter, he spends his days immersed in the Archive with the ghosts of yesterday.

It is there he finds the digital record of a body: a woman, lying face down, half buried in mud. Who is she … and why is someone hacking into the system and deleting the record of her seemingly unremarkable life? This question will drag Dominic from the darkest corners of the past into a deadly and very present nightmare.

When I started Tomorrow and Tomorrow, I was a bit unsure as to what to expect. Was it a murder mystery? An SF novel? A dystopia? It turned out the book is all three. Thomas Sweterlitsch delivers an immersive and thrilling tale of a man whose barely patched-together existence comes crumbling down around him when he discovers a murder in the City Archive that its perpetrators would rather stay buried with the city it happened in. The narrative is fascinating, though at times a little hard to follow. But staying on its tracks paid off beautifully in the end. 

With any dystopia its success is largely dependent on the believability of its world building, in other words, do I believe how we got here. In Tomorrow and Tomorrow the narrative was largely successful in convincing me. On the one hand, the background is somewhat sketchy as to how the world got to the point that Pittsburgh happened. Yet on the other hand, the fact that society is focused on sex, religion, and crime to the extent that it is, feels like a logical extrapolation of current focus. Also the development of internet culture and hardware into a cranial and retinal implant, called Adware, a permanent Google Glass so to speak, doesn’t feel all that far-fetched. In fact, this seems to be becoming more and more a staple of near-future SF.

The biggest example of the immersive and permanent nature of the online world in Dominic’s future is The Archive, which is a freaky mixture of what all the official and unofficial surveillance might mean in the future, allowing us to rebuild entire cities digitally for as far back as we have footage. Yet it is also a touching tribute to the victims of the bombing of Pittsburgh, though one I’m not sure I would want to visit if I was a surviving loved one, even if I absolutely understand how one could become obsessed with it in the way Dominic does.

The immersive nature of Adware is both a feature and a bug in the narrative. While its possibilities are fantastic and give Sweterlitsch lots of ground to play in, the way the online and meatspace tend to intermingle in the narrative can be quite confusing; there were times I had to reread a passage once or twice to figure out where we were exactly. Combine this disorienting element with the fact that for part of the novel Dominic is a drug addict and thus a somewhat unreliable narrator and things got a bit surreal and hard to follow. Yet, this surreality also strengthens Dominic’s characterisation and makes for a fascinating reading experience. It makes for a densely layered narrative, sometimes literally as Dominic overlays the different realities on top of each other and layers in extra senses.

The murder plot that sets the entire story in motion is diabolical in nature and contained several reveals and unexpected connections I really enjoyed. Dominic investigates the murder and the connected leads through a mixture of old-fashioned gum shoe surveillance, digital spelunking, research skills, and creative lateral thinking, but mostly through grit and staying power. Sweterlitsch makes his investigation fascinating by mostly skipping over the more boring bits, but I really liked this non-traditional approach to a criminal investigation.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow doesn’t have a traditional all-is-resolved, all-is-well happy ending. Sweterlitsch certainly resolves the mystery and all loose ends; there is certainly the sense that Dominic has finally reached a place from which he can heal and let go the debilitating grief for his wife and child. Yet, he also loses much and doesn’t get away from what happens during the book without permanent scars. Thomas Sweterlitsch’s Tomorrow and Tomorrow is an intelligent, dark, and gritty thriller that sketches a future I hope we’ll never see, but one that manages to fascinate from start to finish.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.