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Gnomon by Nick Harkaway


by Nick Harkaway

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In a near-future Britain surveillance is not only tolerated but embraced and as part of the System is embedded into a democratic process where everyone has a say. Diana Hunter was a woman who wanted to live life on her own terms and turned her house into a shielded environment where the System wasn’t welcome. For this reason she was brought in for interrogation as a suspected subversive. She died while under interrogation so her neural recordings of memories and thoughts are fed to Inspector Mielikki Neith to find out who Diana Hunter was and if her death was an accident or something more malicious.

Nick Harkaway’s releases have been getting better with each subsequent release and this one continues on that trend. Considering I liked his first book quite a bit then that’s an impressive feat. It’s a look at how technology fits into a modern political future that at some times doesn’t seem that distant. Throw in steganography, some Greek mythology and a great big shark and you end up with a monster of a book weighing in at almost 700 glorious pages. Yes it does get a bit twisty and rambles at times but for me it was entirely worth every one of them. Best book I’ve read in the last couple of years. ( )
  AHS-Wolfy | Apr 8, 2019 |
The System works. Through the System, the Witness watches and organizes the lives of its citizens, calling them to vote when necessary and recording their actions and thoughts.

The System is infalliable.

Mielikki Neith is an Inspector for the Witness; it is her job to investigate abnormalities within the System. When Diana Hunter dies while under interrogation--the first time this has ever happened--Neith is called to watch the recordings of Hunter's mind to determine the cause of her death. What Neith finds, instead of the normal disorganized layers of a normal interrogation, are three distinct narratives of other lives--of other people's memories.

Layers upon layers, lives upon lives. Neith wades through the memories, which come to her whether she seeks them or not, to discover that there may be a flaw in the System. Is it a flaw Hunter was trying to remedy? To exacerbate? Who or what is the Gnomon that appears in each memory? Dense in some parts, but always compelling, Gnomon is a speculative science fiction tome analyzing the surveillance state and how it can be manipulated. ( )
  amsee | Aug 14, 2018 |
I'm not sure where to even start in reviewing this book. For one thing it's huge, over 650 pages, and for another it is densely constructed so the reader has to take her time with it. In consequence it took me two weeks to read this book. How do I, in a short review, even cover what this book is about? Well, I will give it a try.

In the near future England is a security state with cameras everywhere and all communications observed by a huge computer called The System. Crime is almost non-existent. Government is conducted by polls in which all citizens must vote. It is the ultimate representative government. One woman, Diana Hunter, has removed herself from observation by living in a shielded house and using no communication devices. She is called in for questioning by The System because she is suspected of subversive activity. Her memories are scanned by the machine but she has constructed three personas to shield her real thoughts and The Witness cannot get past those defences. After hours and hours of questioning Hunter dies. An Inspector, Mielikki Neith, is giving the responsibility of investigating her death; the investigation includes experiencing all of Hunter's revelations under questioning. As she uncovers more about Hunter and about the three persona Hunter constructed she begins to have doubts about The System. Neith understands there is also another entity, the Gnomon, that is attempting to destroy The System and she must try to stop it, or at least capture it to find out what it knows.

There is an underpinning of Greek myth to this story. Characters must go to the Underworld and return just as Hermes was sent to the Underworld to rescue Persephone. If you understand the story of Persephone you know that she can only emerge from there when the earth is blooming and must always return when winter comes. Harkaway has penned a cautionary tale that warns we can always be returned to the Underworld if we don't keep freedom and true choice blooming. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 3, 2018 |
What an ouroboros of a book ( )
  bibliovermis | Apr 27, 2018 |
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When the first question was asked in a direction opposite to the customary one, it was a signal that the revolution had begun.
--Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Emperor
For Tom, my son.

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"The death of a suspect in custody," says Inspector Neith of the Witness, "is a very serious matter. There is no one at the Witness Programme who does not feel a sense of personal failure this morning."
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"From the widely acclaimed author of The Gone-Away World and Tigerman, a virtuosic new novel and his most ambitious book yet--equal parts dark comedy, gripping detective story, and mind-bending philosophical puzzle--set in a not-too-distant-future, high-tech surveillance state. In the world of Gnomon, citizens are ceaselessly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of "transparency." When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody during a routine interrogation, Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector, is assigned to the case. Immersing herself in neural recordings of the interrogation, she finds a panorama of characters and events that Hunter gave life to in order to forestall the investigation: a lovelorn financier in Athens who has a mystical experience with a shark; a brilliant alchemist in ancient Carthage confronting the unexpected outcome of her invention; an expat Ethiopian painter in London designing a controversial new video game. In the static between these mysterious visions, Neith begins to catch glimpses of the real Diana Hunter--and, alarmingly, of herself, the staggering consequences of which will reverberate throughout the world. Gnomon is a dazzling, panoramic achievement from one of the most original voices in contemporary fiction"--… (more)

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