Review of Tom Sweterlitsch’s ‘The Gone World’

Time travel stuff is annoying as shit. There’s all this world-building and rule-setting that has to be  done before you get into the actual characters and story. So when I opened up Sweterlitsch’s 388 page novel, that’s what I expected. That’s not what I found. Sweterlitsch wants his audience to be overwhelmed at first, to be confused and afraid, to be fetal-coiled into a corner screaming WHY IS EVERYONE CRUCIFIED UPSIDE-DOWN ON INVISIBLE CROSSES?! WHY IS ANYTHING!? WHYYYYYYY!!!??? by the end of the first horrifying chapter of his newish time-traversing detective story, The Gone World. In my case, he succeeded.


The rules are mercifully simple as we continue to find; you can go into a random future and back to where you came from. When you go back, the future you were at ceases to exist. You can’t go back further than where you started, thank sweet Jesus. That gets messy. There are other little variables here and there we pick up as the story goes, but the thing is, the story GOES! It’s very True Detective-y, sure, with the macabre super-brutal murder/mystery weaving together with existential what-the-fucks throughout. But the story is so dense, so layered, once I was in, I was IN. It’s been a good while since a story has outmaneuvered my hypotheses, and this one had me vocally saying, “Holy Shit!” in my cubicle every 30 pages. No wonder Fox snatched up the movie rights already! (Good luck, Neill! Don’t fuck it up! <3)

I did District 9! Remember?? Well, I did.

Highlights (no spoilers):

  • The main character, Agent Moss. She’s a badass, smart as hell amputee with authentic emotions, a huge heart, and a fearless determination that keeps everything moving at a snappy pace despite the hits she takes. And she takes some hits. Ugh.
  • The surprises were never cheap, always catching, it’s what kept me excited to pick the book back up.
  • The Terminus (end of the world scenario they’re trying to avoid throughout) is different and bizarre and more horrific than maybe any End-of-Days event I’ve ever heard of. (ie: aforementioned spontaneous reverse crucifictions).
  • I was taken by all the awesome anti-gravity descriptions, especially the brutal crime scene (one of a few) Moss had to examine, organs and blood floating everywhere; equally beautiful and gruesome.

So hooray for a male writer being able to write a compelling, balanced female protagonist! And huzzah for time-travel scenarios that don’t collapse into paradox! And whoo-hoo for juggling cataclysmic stakes with interior conflicts! This poor guy probably took a thousand painful years to write this monster, but good on ya, Sweterlitsch! You’ve earned yourself a Basement on a Hill grade A+! (The only letter grade I’ve ever given now or ever, because it felt weird just now.)

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