The near future is a dark and dirty place, especially for those few who survived the nuclear blast that turned Pittsburgh and its inhabitants into ash. In a society in which adware is fed directly into the brain and eyes, virtual reality is as real as the physical world – every glance, every desire is met by suggestive images, inviting the thinker to make a purchase, take a decision, get a thrill. Every scene that has been filmed is captured in the Archive, which allows the obsessed the perfect means to spend hours and days reliving the past, feeding the grief of Pittsburgh, reliving time with lost loved ones, making believe that the flash of light and heat never happened. John Dominic Blaxton was away from Pittsburgh when the bomb claimed his wife and unborn child. He now spends his days searching for ghosts in the Archive, looking for the murdered, the victims that others are working just as hard to delete from history.
Dominic is a fascinating character and he drives Tomorrow and Tomorrow. The fact that he is suffering is obvious. His is a portrait in grief and it’s a masterly one. He tries to relive over and over moments with his wife, resetting the clock, rewinding and repeating, constantly. Not surprisingly, it drives him to madness and drugs and breakdown, resulting in his dismissal from his job searching for mysteries in the Archive, particularly a young girl, found dead in mud. Her identity had been erased, clues found only by investigating what is missing from the Archive, tracing the trail of lost pixels. Finally clean again, Dominic is hired by mogul Waverly to hunt for his daughter Albion, another victim of the bomb, but another young woman who is being systematically erased from the record.
To say that the case is not straightforward is the mightiest of understatements and it’s not long before Dominic is on the run for his life, leaving a trail of the tortured and murdered in his wake.
The mystery that Dominic becomes committed to solve is only one half of Tomorrow and Tomorrow. It is an exciting and twisty hunt, ingeniously mapped out, but the significant achievement of the novel is both the portrait of Dominic and the world-building. Dominic is surrounded by a host of characters, some dead, some alive, some not who he thinks they are, and they are all richly hinted at. This is a chase, told in the present tense, increasing the immediacy and the danger, and so we never know more than Dominic himself. But what we are given is a thorough and beautifully written portrait of our main protagonist, a man who is only just holding on and is in dire need of leaving his past where it belongs. It’s extremely moving and it’s impossible not to feel greatly for Dominic. But, as the novel makes clear time after time, Dominic is just one of many who suffers from what happened in Pittsburgh, not to mention all those lost burned souls.
For many, pornography has become the choice method of escape. Nothing is sacred. The murdered become objects of titillation on reality TV, the rights to the bodies sold by their families. The female President of the United States is little more than a glamorous executioner, signing the warrants of death live on TV in front of the condemned, followed by scandal and all the more popular and electable for it. There’s no doubt about it – this is distasteful stuff, but it is not done salaciously. Thomas Sweterlitsch is a fine writer and he walks the line between what is acceptable and what isn’t very well (I am a most squeamish reader and I had no problem with this at all). This is a most unattractive future world – hardly unsurprising if it’s a place in which nuclear attacks take place – but there are moments of hope and lightness, seen most particularly in the scenes with Dominic’s friends and family.
Thomas Sweterlitsch combines so well a murder mystery with a stunning portrait of a near future world that is truly horrifying, not just for the obvious bomb devastation and the moral and political degradation of society, but also for its nightmare portrait of social media gone mad. Thrilling and thought-proving, Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a most intriguing and original read.