The Gone-Away World [NOOK Book]

Overview

A hilarious, action-packed look at the apocalypse that combines a touching tale of friendship, a thrilling war story, and an all out kung-fu infusedmission to save the world.Gonzo Lubitch and his best friend have been inseparable since birth. They grew up together, they studiedmartial arts together, they rebelled in college together, and they fought in the Go-Away War together. Now, with the world in shambles and dark nightmarish clouds billowing over the wastelands, they have been tapped for an incredibly ...
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The Gone-Away World

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Overview

A hilarious, action-packed look at the apocalypse that combines a touching tale of friendship, a thrilling war story, and an all out kung-fu infusedmission to save the world.Gonzo Lubitch and his best friend have been inseparable since birth. They grew up together, they studiedmartial arts together, they rebelled in college together, and they fought in the Go-Away War together. Now, with the world in shambles and dark nightmarish clouds billowing over the wastelands, they have been tapped for an incredibly perilous mission. But they quickly realize that this assignment is not all it seems, and before it is over they will have encountered everything from mimes, ninjas, and pirates to one ultra-sinister mastermind, whose only goal is world domination. Unlike anything else, The Gone-Away World is a remarkable literary debut that will be remembered and rediscovered for years to come.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

This unclassifiable debut from the son of legendary thriller author John le Carré is simultaneously a cautionary tale about the absurdity of war; a sardonic science fiction romp through Armageddon; a conspiracy-fueled mystery replete with ninjas, mimes and cannibal dogs; and a horrifying glimpse of a Lovecraftian near-future. "Go Away" bombs have erased entire sections of reality from the face of the Earth. A nameless soldier and his heroic best friend witness firsthand the unimaginable aftermath outside the Livable Zone, finding that the world has "unraveled" and is home to an assortment of nightmarish mutations. With the fate of humankind in the balance, the pair become involved in an unlikely and potentially catastrophic love triangle. Readers who prefer linear, conventional plotlines may find Harkaway overly verbose and frustratingly tangential, but those intrigued by works that blur genre boundaries will find this wildly original hybrid a challenging and entertaining entry in the post-apocalyptic canon. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Harkaway has created a monster. Although his debut has been compared to the work of Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut, this epic novel shares with them only the elements of war, satire, and irony (and a few references to Vonnegut's line, "And so it goes..."). This story is more concerned with the fantastical and supernatural underpinnings of war in a futuristic, technologically superior world in which there's a new weapon that wipes out enemies by making them "go away." Many bad side effects ensue, and an eclectic team of soldiers-turned-action heroes is hired to fix them. It's a futuristic doomsday tale of sorts, but it's also the story of an average guy, Gonzo, who must save both the world and a part of himself (literally) several times. The first part is a bit confusing without the later context. However, its humorous parts, mostly in the form of tangents and its accounts of sentimentality among manly men, are a lot of fun to read. Prepare for a multifaceted ride, a mixture of Apocalypse Now and Fight Club . Recommended only for larger public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/08.]-Stephen Morrow, Athens, OH

Kirkus Reviews
Fantasy meets apocalypse meets allegory meets bildungsroman in an exuberant, bulging first novel by John le Carre's son. Set in a semi-recognizable world (Cuba is admitted into the United Kingdom), at some undated point in the future, and narrated by a nameless hero with no apparent family but a gift for martial arts and a best friend named Gonzo Lubitsch, Harkaway's debut blends aspects of existing culture (Brazil, Catch-22, The Karate Kid) into the story. In love with names, riffs, stories and language, this is a good-natured, underedited, serio-comic take on war, ecology, capitalism and human nature, loosely gathered around the development of its central character, who is semi-adopted by the Lubitsches, wins a place at university, is captured and threatened for associating with subversives, struggles to find work and eventually joins a special-forces unit, which is how he comes to be fighting in Addeh Katir (a lush, faraway place nonetheless reminiscent of Iraq) when the Go Away Bombs start to fall, decimating the population. They are quickly followed by something worse, something that unleashes monsters from the human imagination. A kind of order is restored via the Jorgmund Pipe, which purifies the air and allows communities to develop and for which our hero and his friends work as a troubleshooting crew. But then Gonzo invades the narrator's marriage and shoots him, leading to a terrible revelation and a new world order. Excessive and garrulous, this is nevertheless something of a tour de force, energized by set pieces, many of them involving fights, and sustained by inexhaustible imagination. Harkaway displays talent with his big, butch, bravura first book, if not yet the abilityto distinguish the wood from the trees. First Printing of 60,000
From the Publisher
“A flat-out ferociously good novel.... Reads like a surrealist smashup of Pynchon and Pratchett, Vonnegut and Heller.”—Austin Chronicle“Harkaway delivers plenty of action and surprises.... Likely to be this season’s major conversation-starter.”—San Francisco Chronicle“A gripping, satirical, postapocalyptic war epic populated with mimes, ninjas, bureaucrats, chimera, and gun-toting nerds.”—New YorkMagazine"Very funny and hugely entertaining. . . . And brilliant. Read it."—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel "Bewilders, amazes, entertains. . . . a Catch-22 for the 21st century. . . . a work of extraordinary imagination and charisma. . . genius"—The New York Observer"Leaves the reader gasping for both adjectives and description. It's a powerful and accomplished first novel that weaves elements of romance, mystery, SF/F and — yes — thriller together in a way that leaves no doubt that the master storyteller gene really is something that can be passed along."—January Magazine"Vivid and exciting. Harkaway manages to meld a vision of war more germane to today's world, and take it to its most horrifying, apocalyptic conclusion."—Charleston City Paper
The Barnes & Noble Review
The Gone-Away World is a narrative cloudburst loaded with mordant dust devils whirling close to Iain M. Banks, a philosophical cumulus reminiscent of Neal Stephenson, and a bold downpour of mimes, gong fu, and other torrential tomfoolery. It is not, despite Nick Harkaway's suggestive nom de plume, a svelte Jazz Age meditation on affluence and perception. But it does tackle these two conditions in a universe close to ours, one that involves Cuba joining the United Kingdom and the All Asian Investment and Progressive Banking Group standing in for the World Bank. Harkaway has written a first novel with an assured and clever voice, riddling his readers with brio and a few unusual thought experiments.

Anagram-friendly character names like Dr. Andromas (Drama Son -- the heir to Snow Crash's Hiro Protagonist?) and Evander Soames (Endeavors Same? A Daemon Serves?) flutter through the book like a wintry gale tormenting a Jumble enthusiast trying to hold a newspaper at a shelterless bus stop. There are abrupt flashbacks, seemingly gratuitous monologues that are later informed by unexpected story developments, and a good deal of madcap energy. Much as the Matrix trilogy popularized Jean Baudrillard's idea of images and symbols transforming reality into a simulation, Harkaway's wild tangents reflect the unusual premise of a world in which holes and blank expanses likewise inform how one exists.

This is a place in which dead letters are referred to as zombie letters. One walk-on character, struggling with his percolable condition, quite literally, "has a hole in the front of his head, but there is very little blood and he is still alive." Likewise, the unnamed narrator informs us of a building's facade following "a blocky in-and-out pattern like a ratchet or the tread of a sneaker" but confesses a page later that "this place had no sense of its own ridiculousness." Through this tricky aperture between thought and absurdity, likewise suggested by the aptly named Project Albumen (contained within this building), Harkaway squeezes in everything but the kitchen sink.

The novel beginswith a dystopic scenario in which the Earth has been circumscribed by the Jorgmund Pipe, delivering a fresh oil known as FOX (no apparent relation to the conservative news network) to the remainder of humanity. It is the aftermath of a war, or rather an un-war, that erupted in a small nation but quickly led to a global-superpower showdown and the use of Go Away Bombs, "vacuum cleaners of information" that prove more devastating than a casual nuclear detonation. Through "demonstrative world-editing," the bombs simply erase everything in the way. Venture too far from the Pipe and you'll find yourself in unreal territory, a wasteland occupied by war victims who are, like the Remade in China Miéville's New Crobuzon novels, "Made [into] people who weren't born, who were just made up or who are split in half so that there's two of them. Or more."

This dire dilemma may account for the narrator's insouciant attitude to violence. We know that the narrator exists to look after a boisterous lunkhead named Gonzo Lubitsch, but the hero's description of a torture room ("I was not expecting single-bulb lighting and iron buckets to pee in") reads like copy from a demented travel brochure. Of an assassin named Moustache, we are informed, "He killed ergonomically, so that later, when he was reporting to his evil moustache boss, he would not have an uncomfortable twinge in his shoulders." But as we get to know our hero further, Harkaway posits the possibility that his existence could be just as tenuous as those who exist away from the pipe, half-formed in the wasteland.

Harkaway also uses his novel to offer a few thoughtful meditations on the Hobbesian social contract. When the narrator needs a job, he is told by prospective employer Crispin Hoare that there is an annex attached to his public record. Crispin introduces Jon Agar's concept of the Government Machine, the complication of British civil service founded upon a mechanized state of expertise. Harkaway uses this moment to reintroduce perception into the quagmire: "A lot of rather ordinary people will get repeatedly investigated with increasing severity until the Government Machine either finds enemies or someone very high up indeed personally turns the tide." This complication also serves as an intriguing postmodern conceit. For if the hero cannot enter into a proper quid pro quo with the government that is expected to protect him, how then can his identity be corralled within the ever-shifting world presented within the narrative?

Harkaway stacks his sentences with copious clauses and plentiful modifiers, as if his narrator's very existence will dissipate if he stops spinning his tale. Sometimes, the narrator describes details in a bawdy manner suggesting a man rambling on in a tavern. An office is described as "vapid, flashy, with a desk made for after-hours sex" and a piping machine is portrayed as "the love child of a bulldozer and a shopping mall." Sometimes, the narrator ventures further into over-the-top swagger: "The experience of being shot in the gut at close range is pretty much as advertised."

Harkaway's prose fleshes out this porous landscape with pockmarked imagery. A side character is given "the look which snowmen acquire the day after their construction, of being partly dissolved and cavernous." Underneath a circus tent, "a murmur of approbation filters out through the canvas backdrop." While Harkaway doesn't go as far as Alfred Bester in using word diagrams to depict a textual environment caving in on the character, these descriptive indicators nevertheless present a grand irony: a vast, verdant forest of words shading little more than blankness.

However, when a major plot twist occurs, something unusual happens in the last hundred pages. The narrator's cheery bulleted lists begin to disappear, as if Harkaway himself has run out of narrative ammunition. Alas, so too does the piss-and-vinegar in Harkaway's zippy piston engine. The hero lacks the luster and bravado established in the early pages, and the novel begins to paddle away from its enticing stream of ideas and humor.

But if we can pardon Neal Stephenson for Snow Crash's abrupt ending, we can likewise forgive Harkaway. The Gone-Away World offers a natural synthesis between the cyberpunk novels of the '90s and the roomy ruminations of contemporary British novelists like David Mitchell. It is a cathartic kick-start from a very promising talent. --Edward Champion

Edward Champion is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, The Los Angeles Times, and other distinguished and disreputable publications. He runs the cultural web site http://www.edrants.com.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307270375
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/2/2008
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 133,198
  • File size: 664 KB

Meet the Author

Nick Harkaway was born in Cornwall in 1972. He studied philosophy, sociology, and politics at Clare College, Cambridge, and then worked in the film industry. The Gone-Away World is his first novel. He lives in London with his wife.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Read an Excerpt

The Gone-Away World

The lights went out in the Nameless Bar just after nine. I was bent over the pool table with one hand in the bald patch behind the D, which Flynn the Barman claimed was beer, but which was the same size and shape as Mrs. Flynn the Barman's arse: nigh on a yard in the beam and formed like the cross-section of a cooking apple. The fluorescent over the table blinked out, then came back, and the glass-fronted fridge gave a low, lurching hum. The wiring buzzed—and then it was dark. A faint sheen of static danced on the TV on its shelf, and the green exit lamp sputtered by the door.

I dropped my weight into the imprint of Mrs. Flynn the Barman's hams and played the shot anyway. The white ball whispered across the felt, came off two cushions, and clipped the eight cleanly into a side pocket. Doff, doff, tchk . . . glonk. It was perfect. On the other hand, I'd been aiming for the six. I'd given the game to Jim Hepsobah, and any time now when the power came back and everything was normal in the Nameless Bar, I'd pass the cue to my hero pal Gonzo, and Jim would beat him too.

Any time now.

Except that the lights stayed out, and the hollow glimmer of the TV set faded away. There was a small, quiet moment, the kind you just have time to notice, which makes you feel sad for no good reason. Then Flynn went out back, swearing like billy-o—and if your man Billy-O ever met Flynn, if ever there was a cuss-off, a high noon kinduva thing with foul language, I know where my money'd be.

Flynn hooked up the generator, which God help us was pig-powered. There was the sound of four large, foul-smelling desert swine being yoked to a capstan, a noise pretty much like a minor cavalry war, and then Flynn let loose some of his most abominable profanity at the nearest porker. It looked as if it wanted to vomit and bolted. The others perforce followed it in a slow but steady progression about the capstan, and then pig number one came back around, saw Flynn ready with another dose and tried to stop. Lashed to the crosspiece and bundled along by its three fellows, it found it couldn't, so it gathered its flabcovered self and charged past him at piggy top speed, and the whole cycle accelerated until, with a malodorous, oinking crunch, the generator kicked in, and the television lit up with the bad news.

Or rather, it didn't light up. The picture was so dim that it seemed the set was broken. Then there were fireworks and cries of alarm and fear, very quiet but getting louder, and we realised Sally Culpepper was just now turning on the sound. The image shook and veered, and urgent men went past shouting get back, get clear, and ohshitlookatthatfuckerjesus, which they didn't even bother to bleep. In the middle distance, it looked as if maybe a figure was rolling on the ground. Something had gone absolutely, horribly awry in the world, and naturally some arsehole was present with a camera making himself 10k an hour hazard pay when he could have been rolling up his arsehole sleeves and saving a life or two. I knew a guy in the Go Away War who did just that, dumped the network's prized Digi VII in a latrine trench and hauled six civilians and a sergeant from a burning medical truck. Got the Queen's Honour back home and a P45 from his boss. He's in an institution now, is Micah Monroe, and every day two guys from the Veterans' Hospital come by and take him for a walk and make sure the medal's polished on its little stand by his bed. They're sweet old geezers, Harry and Hoyle, and they've got medals of their own and they figure it's the least they can do for a man who lost his mind to giving a damn. Harry's kid was in the medical truck, you see. One of the ones Micah couldn't reach.

We stared at the screen and tried to make sense of what was on it. It looked, for a moment, as if the Jorgmund Pipe was on fire—but that was like saying the sky was falling. The Pipe was the most solidly constructed, triple-redundant, safety-first, one-of-a-kind necessary object in the world. We built it fast and dirty, because there was no other way, the gone-away world and then after that we made it indestructible. The plans were drawn up by the best, then checked and re-checked by the very best, and then the checkers themselves were scrutinised, analysed and vetted for any sign of fifth columnism or martyr tendencies, or even a serious and hitherto undetected case of just-plain-stupid, and then the contractors went to work under a scheme which emphasised thoroughness and adherence to spec over swift completion, and which imposed penalties so dire upon speculators and profiteers that it would actually be safer just to throw yourself from a high place, and finally the quantity surveyors and catastrophe experts went to town on it with hammers and saws, lightning generators and torsion engines, and declared it sound. Everyone in the Livable Zone was united in the desire to maintain and safeguard it. There was absolutely no chance that it could imaginably, conceivably, possibly be on fire.

It was on fire in a big way. The Pipe was burning painful white, magnesium, corpse-belly, nauseating white, and beside it there were buildings and fences, which meant this wasn't just the Pipe, but something even more important: a pumping station or a refinery. The whole place was wrapped in hot, shining smoke, and deep in the heart of the furnace there was stuff going on the human eye didn't know what to do with, weird, bad-news stuff which came with its own ominous soundtrack. On the screen something very important crumbled into noise and light.

"Fuuuuuuck," said Gonzo William Lubitsch, speaking for everyone.

It was a funny feeling: we were looking at the end of the world— again—and we were looking at something awful we'd never wanted to see, but at the same time we were looking at fame and fortune and just about everything we could ever ask for delivered by a grateful populace. We were looking at our reason for being. Because that thar on that thar screen was a fire, plus also a toxic event of the worst kind, and we, Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands together, were the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company of Exmoor County (corporate HQ the Nameless Bar, CEO Sally J. Culpepper, presiding) and this was the thing that we did better than anyone else in the entire Livable Zone, and therefore anywhere. Sally was straightaway talking to Jim Hepsobah and then to Gonzo, making lists and giving orders.

She set Flynn the Barman to brewing his chews-through-steel espresso, and at last even Mrs. Flynn was up off her on-board cushions and moving at flank speed to make provisions, prepare tallies, and take letters for loved ones and estranged ones and people glimpsed and admired across the floating ash of the Nameless Bar. We ran to and fro and bumped into one another and swore, mostly because we didn't have anything important to do yet, and there was hubbub and brouhaha until Sally jumped up on the pool table and told us to shut up and get it together. She raised her phone above our heads like the thigh bone of a saint.

Sally Culpepper was six feet tall and much of her was leg, and on her right shoulder blade she had an orchid tattoo inked by some kid a quarter-inch shy of Michelangelo. She had strawberry lips and creamy skin and freckles across her nose where it'd been rebuilt after a bar fight in Lisbon. Gonzo claimed to have slept with her, to have had those legs wrapped around his hips like conjoined Italian calf-skin boa constrictors. He said she left him all but dead and grinning like a crescent moon. He said it happened one night after a big job, beer running from the rafters and everyone shiny as an egg yolk with success and soap-scoured skin. He said it was that time when Jim and Sally were trying not to be a thing, before they just gave in to the inevitable and got a place together. Every time we all met up, me and Gonzo and Sally and Jim Hepsobah and the others, Gonzo'd throw her a wicked grin and ask her how her other tattoo was, and Sally Culpepper would smile a secret smile which said she wasn't telling, and maybe he knew what that other tattoo looked like and maybe he didn't. Jim Hepsobah just pretended he hadn't heard, because Jim loved Gonzo like a brother, and love like that recognises that your buddy can be an ass, and doesn't care. We all loved Sally Culpepper, and she ruled us with her transparent lashes and her milkmaid's face and her slender arms that could drop a punch on you like a steam hammer. So there she stood, and there was a reasonable facsimile of calm and attention, because we knew that if the call came it would come on that phone, and we knew she had five-offive reception here, and that was one of the reasons why the Nameless Bar was our place of business.

So we stopped hunting for lost socks and packing bags, and fretting that we'd somehow miss the starting gun, and settled in to Mrs. Flynn's provender. After a while we got quietly chatty and talked about small domestic chores, like cleaning gutters and chasing bats out of the loft. When the phone did ring (any time now), we could go and be heroes and save the world, which was Gonzo's favourite thing, and perforce something I did from time to time as well. Until it kicked off, we might as well not fuss. And then the Nameless Bar went quiet again; in little groups and one by one we fell silent as we beheld a vision of awful destiny.

The vision took the form of a small child carrying a snot-crusted and elderly teddy bear. It marched out into the room with much gravitas, surveyed us all sternly, then turned to Mrs. Flynn the Barman to gather in details for the prosecution.

"Why was it all dark?" it demanded.

"The power went out," Mrs. Flynn the Barman said cheerfully.

"There's a fire." The child glowered around the room.

"These are loud men," it said, still annoyed, "and this one is dirty."

It indicated Gonzo, who winced. It considered Sally Culpepper.

"This lady has a flower on her back," it added, having found conclusive proof of our unsuitability, then sat down in the middle of the floor and helped itself to a cheese and bacon roll. We goggled at it, and tried to make it go away by rubbing our eyes.

"Sorry," Mrs. Flynn the Barman said to us in general. "We don't let him in here normally, but it's an emergency." She eyed the child without approval. "Sweetie, you can't eat that; it's been on the floor near the dirty man."

Gonzo would probably have objected to this, but he didn't seem to hear her; he was still gazing in mute horror at the kid in front of him, and so was I, and so was everyone else. It was unquestionably a human toddler, and from the context certain conclusions had to be drawn which were uncomfortable and even appalling. This infant, swaddled in a bath towel and presently attempting to jam a four-inch-diameter granary bap into one ear, was the Spawn of Flynn.

Now, the fire on the Jorgmund Pipe was deeply unsettling. It represented danger and opportunity and almost certainly deceptions and agendas and what all. It was, however, well within our common understanding.

Things burned, things exploded, and then we came along and made them stop. A breeding population of Flynns was another proposition altogether. We looked on Flynn as our personal monster, a safe, disturbing ogre of corrosive profanity and sinister glassware. He was ours and he was mighty and we grew great by association with him, and proof of his dangerous overmanliness was to be found in his fearless sexual trystings with the vasty Mrs. Flynn, but we didn't really want to live in a world entirely composed of Flynn-like beings in their serried ranks, vituperative and grouchy and unwilling to take an IOU. That was a new order even the bravest of us would find inhospitable, and the glimmer of it, the Spawn of Flynn, was even now throwing pieces of mushed-up cheese at Gonzo's boot. Mrs. Flynn the Barman, oblivious, finished whatever domestic task she was about amid a flurry of folding cloths and wiping, and trotted out. The Spawn of Flynn blithely ignored his mother and took a chomp from the side of the soiled roll.

"Crunchy," said the Spawn of Flynn.

Sally Culpepper's phone made a little chirrup, and everyone pointedly didn't look.

"Culpepper," Sally murmured, and then, after a moment, snapped it shut. "Wrong number." We all made faces to suggest we weren't fussed.

For a while, the Nameless Bar was filled with the sound of a small child eating and a lot of rough and tough-talking men and women thinking perturbed and unfamiliar thoughts about time and mortality and family. Then the quiet was broken, not by a phone call but by a sound so deep it was very nearly not a sound at all.

You heard it first as a kind of aggressive quiet. The whoosh and snarl of the desert all around us was still going on, but somehow it was subsumed by this deep, bass silence. Then you could feel it as a coldness in your knees and ankles, an unsteady, heart-attack feeling of weakness and vibration. A bit later it was audible, a thrumming gnognognogg which echoed in your lungs and let you know you were a prey animal today. And if you'd ever heard it before you knew what it was, and we all knew, because when we'd first met it was the noise we'd made together: the sound of soldiers. Someone was deploying a decent-sized military force around the Nameless Bar, and that meant they were emphatically not kidding about security. Since it seemed unlikely that they were deploying in order to arrest us, and since in any case if they were there would be absolutely nothing we could do about it, we all crowded through the big pine door of the Nameless Bar to watch them arrive.

Outside, it was cold and dry. The night had set in, witching-hour black, and the sands had given up their heat, so a chill wind was gusting across the wooden rooftops of the bar and the outbuildings, and the gloomy shacks and clapboard homes which made up the no-hope town of Exmoor, pop. 1,309. Off against the brow of Millgram's Hill was our section of the Jorgmund Pipe; a single shadow-grey line lit by Flynn's bedroom window and the work light in the paddock, and every now and again by the gleam of another lonely little house along the way. It ran in both directions into the dark, and somewhere on the other side of the globe those two lines met and joined, surely at a place which was as vibrant and alive as Exmoor was not. On the top of the Pipe, every few metres, there was a little nozzle spraying good, clean FOX into the sky; FOX, the magic potion which kept the part of the world we still had roughly the same shape day by day. No one quite knew where it came from or how you made it; most people imagined some big machine like an egg with all manner of wires and lights condensing it out of air and moonshine, and drip-drip-dripping it into big vats. There were thousands of them, somewhere, vulnerable and vital, and let them never stop. I'd once seen some of the machinery involved: long black lozenges with curved sides, all plumbing and hoses, and rather eerie. Less an egg than a space capsule or a bathyscaphe, except this was the opposite; not a thing for journeying through a hostile place, but a thing which makes what is outside less hostile.

Most people tried very hard to avoid noticing the Pipe. They had euphemisms for it, as if it were cancer or impotence or the Devil, which it was. In some places they painted it bold colours and pretended it was an art project, or built things in front of it or even grew flowers on it. Only in pissant remora towns like this one did you get to see the thing itself; the rusty and despised spine of who we were, carrying vital solidity and safety, and the illusion of continuance, to every nook and cranny of the Livable Zone.

In truth it was not a loop at all, but a weird bird's-nest tangle. There were hairpin bends and corkscrews, and places where subsidiary hoses jutted out from the main line to reach little towns on the edges, and places where the Livable Zone pulled close about the Pipe like a matron drawing up her skirts to cross a stream, where the weather and the lie of the land brought the outside perilously close; but taken all together it made a sort of rough circle girdling the Earth. A place to have a home. Get more than twenty miles from the Pipe (Old JP, they called it in Haviland City, where the Jorgmund Company had its headquarters, or sometimes the Big Snake or the Silver) and you were in the inimical no-man's-land between the Livable Zone and the bloody nightmare of the unreal world. Sometimes it was safe, and sometimes it wasn't. We called it the Border, and we went through it when we had to, when it was the only way to get somewhere in any reasonable length of time, when the alternative was a long drive around three sides of a square and the emergency wouldn't wait. All the same, we went in force and we went quickly, lightly, and we kept an eye on the weather. If the wind changed, or the pressure dropped; if we saw clouds on the horizon we didn't like, or strange folks, or animals which weren't quite right, we turned tail and ran back to the Pipe. People who lived in the Border didn't always stay people. We carried FOX in canisters, and we hoped it would be enough.

....

"It's time to eat," Ma Lubitsch says, a broad expanse of apron topped by a summit of greasy peanut-coloured hair. Old Man Lubitsch doesn't hear over the buzzing of his hives, or he doesn't care to join us, because his baggy white figure remains out in the yard, tottering from one prefab bee house to another with a can of wispy smoke. Ma Lubitsch makes a noise like a whale clearing its blowhole and sets out knives and forks, the delaminating edge of the table pushing into her belly. Gonzo's mother is big enough that she takes up two seats in church and once near-killed a burglar with a rolled-up colour supplement. Gonzo himself, still able to count his years without resorting to two hands, has his father's more sparing construction.

One of my first memories, in all the world: Gonzo, only a few months before, staring into my face with a stranger's concern. He has been playing a game of indescribable complexity, by himself, in the corner of the playground. He has walked from one end of the sandpit to the other and rendered it flat in a particular place, and he has marked borders and bridges and areas of diffusion and lines of demarcation and now he needs another player and cannot find one. And so he turns to look about him and sees a small, lost child: alone in a moment of unfathomable grief. With presence of mind he directs his mother's attention to the crisis, and she trundles over and asks immediately what is the matter and am I hurt and where are my parents and where is my home? And to these questions I have no answer. All I know is that I am crying.

Gonzo answers the disaster by approaching the white ice-cream truck at the far gate, purchasing there a red, rocket-shaped ice with a sticky centre, and this he hands me with great solemnity. Ten minutes later, by the alchemy of sugar and artificial flavours and the security they represent, I have joined Gonzo's incomprehensible game and am winning—though perhaps he is going easy on me—and my tears are dry and crusty on my smock. During a momentary ceasefire, Gonzo informs me that this afternoon I may come to his house and meet his father, who is wise beyond measure, and partake of his mother's cooking, which is unequalled among mortal men, and even feed biscuits to the Lubitsch donkeys, whose coats are more glossy and whose eyes are more lambent than any other donkeys in all the wide world of donkeykind. Ma Lubitsch, watching from a small distance, recognises by the instinctual knowledges of an expat Polish mother that her family has grown by one, and is not perturbed.

In her oven gloves and enveloping apron, Ma Lubitsch gazes through the French windows a bit longer, but Gonzo's father is now chasing a single errant bee around the hives with the smoke gun. Political dissent among the bee houses is not permitted. Ma Lubitsch makes a seesaw turn, stepping from one foot to the other once, twice, three times to bring herself back to the table to dish up, swearing the while in muttered Polish. The infant Gonzo, mighty with filial affront, dashes out to rebuke and retrieve the Old Man; I follow more slowly, five years of age and cautious with brief experience; appearances deceive. Honest faces lie and big boats sink where small ones ride out the gale. But ask me how I know, and I will not be able to tell you.

"Ma says lunch," Kid Gonzo says firmly. Old Man Lubitsch holds up a single gloved hand, a sinner lost to apiarism, requesting indulgence. The bee is on the flagstone in front of him, presumably coughing. It appears for a moment that Gonzo will stamp on it, rid himself of this impediment to family harmony, but his father is fast for all that his face looks like faded wool, or maybe it is just that Old Man Lubitsch understands the value of strategic positioning: he swoops, his body blocking Gonzo's line of attack, and, lifting the bee in gentle fingers, he pops it into hive number three.

"Lunch," Old Man Lubitsch agrees, and for a moment I believe he smiles at me.

We return to the house, but Gonzo's mother is not mollified.

Things are strained. They have been strained since before I arrived, since Gonzo's older brother Marcus went to soldier, and neglected to duck on some forgotten corner of a foreign field that is forever Cricklewood Cove. Lunch is Ma Lubitsch's small white witchery, her article of faith—if she can provide Gonzo with hearty nutrition and a solid, dependable centre, he will be well-fitted to the world. He will conquer, he will survive, he will feel no need to seek adventure. He will not leave her. For Ma Lubitsch, lunch defies death. Old Man Lubitsch, however, knows that sometimes, for reasons which are obscure even to bees, the hive must disgorge its children and see them set upon the wind. And so he prepares for the moment when this son either finds a queen and starts a family, or flies and flies until he cannot continue and falls to the dirt to become once again a part of the mossy meadow carpet all around.

Ma Lubitsch doesn't speak to her husband during the meal. She doesn't speak from the first potato to the last flake of chocolate icing, and she doesn't speak over coffee, and she doesn't speak as Gonzo removes himself to the creek to fish. It seems that she will never speak to him again, but when I return unannounced for a forgotten tackle box, I glimpse her, the enormous body racked with sobs, cradled in the arms of her tiny mate. Old Man Lubitsch is singing to her in the language of the old country, and his shadowed, sharp little eyes lay omertà upon me, dark and deep; these are secrets between men, boy, between the true men of the heart. I know it. I understand.

It is this image which comes to mind later whenever Gonzo is about to embark on some act of unconsidered heroism: a bird-like man in white overalls lending his strength to a shattered mountain. Gonzo fishes. He catches two tiddlers of uncertain species, and throws them back when they appear unhappy. I never tell him what I have seen, and when I turn around, five years have passed.


Excerpted from The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway. Copyright © 2008 by Nick Harkaway. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

From the Hardcover edition.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 45 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2009

    this is mad max meets jitterbug perfume. this is the most fun the apocalypse has ever been.

    with sentences that are unapologetically incomprehensible, and a plot that is if possible more so, this should be a frustrating read. but indeed, from the first few pages harkaway paints a world so frenetic, edgy, and impossible that the reader can't help but be drawn in. while the book's ultimate motive is, as with the best science fiction, to make a point about politics and human nature and culture and their intersection - and it has no little success here - it continues at the same time to be an engrossing and entertaining read. it is a story about the apocalypse, but not the one we were expecting; it's a story about growing up in the world, and how to be an adult in it; it's a story about... well... all the stuff stories are supposed to be about. and it's told in a style that is reminiscent of vonnegut, or kesey, or HST (it's no coincidence that one of the main characters is named gonzo!), one that keeps you rolling through a mad max universe for the sheer surprise of what will happen next. from pancakes as the clear solution to the decimation of the world, to a martial arts master who invents a secret so he can have one to not tell people who want to know the Inner Teachings, to the indescribably awful image of a professor's flaking scalp, this is writing as vivid as it is ungainly, and as ass-backwards as it is self-conscious and deliberate. read it, read it, read it!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2010

    Original & Fun

    This is probably one of the more original stories I have read in a long time with great twists and turns. I became quite attached to the main character and was routing for him the entire time. The author's writing style does take some getting used to and I will admit I agree with other reviewers that his flashbacks can ramble and get quite tedious. I too skimmed through some pages to get back to the main story line. However, the original story and the author's dry and sarcastic humor made me an instant fan. I look forward to more from the author.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 22, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    A Refreshing Brilliant Book

    Nick Harkaway has really done a work here for his first novel. He has a very unique writing style that vaguely resembles Douglas Adams with a sarcastic Kurt Vonnegut thrown in there. The rhythm of the book takes a little getting use to but once you do you will enjoy every word of it.

    The characters and plot of this book are masterful and the book is wrapped up in a nice clean way.

    To the reviewer, Very Confusing... perhaps if you hadn't "skimmed through many pages just to finish", the book might have been a little less confusing.

    I'd recommend this novel to anyone, it is fun, adventurous. wacky and quiet outlandish at times but a work of art non the less.

    Keep your eyes out for Nick's next book, I know I am.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 8, 2009

    An incredible first novel

    The Gone-Away World is the best piece of speculative fiction I've read in years. Brilliantly conceived and finely crafted, it presents an internally consistent alternate (I hope!) reality, populates it with four-dimensional characters, and doesn't let up until the last page. Harkaway must have a truly twisted (and I mean that in the best possible sense) imagination to be able to create such an original world situation, while still keeping everything eminently believable, even compelling.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2011

    One of the best books I've ever read.

    I truly believe in time, this will sit on a shelf next to the likes of Catch 22 and Slaugherhouse 5.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 25, 2008

    engaging satirical science fiction cautionary tale

    For a rare time the government¿s claims re the Go Away Bomb is not obfuscated with the usual disinformation and misinformation. The assertion that the weapon was not of mass destruction just capable of erasing nasty reality elements made people euphoric with the no damage to property concept. However, the reality modification proved in reality a bit more convoluted as Einstein was right about relativity. Soon after the release of the Go Away Bomb, people¿s nightmarish thoughts started to turn into real monsters of the under the bed variety. The Jorgamund Pipe is built like a belt around the world that releases FOX, an elixir to counteract the Go Away Bomb effect at least for the few kilometers nearby. When a fire threatens the pipe and consequently the shrunk world, Gonzo Lubitsch, his best friend, and their HazMat emergency team go to put out the blaze and repair the damage. They know they enter a world of horrific chaos, but as Gonzo¿s pragmatic best friend says that is the norm for his pal going back to childhood under the tutelage of a Kung Fu guru, his military time building a bomb of not mass destruction and seeing its collateral damage shrinking the globe to a small Livable Zone. --- With nods to Vonnegut and Pratchett, THE GONE AWAY WORLD is an engaging satirical science fiction cautionary tale that takes a strong anti-war stand based on the justifications proving reality is relative. Those who believe will insure the facts fit their thesis those who do not likewise (Cheney and Anti Cheney Effects). The story line is non linear as the unnamed best friend narrates by providing readers with Gonzo¿s biography. This is for the most part entertaining and relevant even with a final monster twist but also at times at least to the reality envisioned by this reviewer feels as if a sidebar hijacked the plot temporarily. Still cerebral sci fi fans with plenty of time will want to read Nick Harkaway¿s thrilling thriller. --- Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2014

    Good

    It's good

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2012

    Loved this book

    If you like science fiction, fantasy or alternate reality stories, The Gone Away World is for you. If you like good story telling, this book is for you. I laughed out loud, I cried, was horrified and amazed. I think Rick Harkway is one of the best storytellers I've discovered lately. I will definitely be reading his other works and looking forward to new releases.

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  • Posted December 12, 2011

    One of my top 5 favorites.

    This book has everything-action, adventure, romance, ninjas...

    It's like sci-fi meets kung-fu meets post-apocalypse meets war/military meets....everything else. It's hilarious in some parts and horribly sad in others.

    I can't even begin to describe why this book is fantastic except for that it just is.

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  • Posted September 20, 2011

    Genius

    I discovered this little gem a couple years ago and have recommended it ever since. It is as if Nick Harkaway tapped into the dreams of my chuldhood, wove them into an epic and threaded in philosophy and mind blowing action. If you have come across this, read it. My only questio is when will he write more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2009

    Very confusing

    This book rambled and digressed so much that I confess I skimmed through many pages just to finish. It was a tiring and tense read. The concept is very creative but would be better as a sci-fi movie.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 17, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted July 28, 2013

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    Posted April 1, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2011

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    Posted January 25, 2013

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    Posted March 17, 2012

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    Posted January 10, 2011

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