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Gnomon
Cover of Gnomon
Gnomon
A Novel
A Best Science Fiction Book of 2017 — The Guardian
From the widely acclaimed author of The Gone-Away World and Tigerman, comes a virtuosic new novel set in a near-future, high-tech surveillance state, that is equal parts dark comedy, gripping detective story, and mind-bending philosophical puzzle.

In the world of Gnomon, citizens are constantly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of 'transparency.' Every action is seen, every word is recorded, and the System has access to its citizens' thoughts and memories—all in the name of providing the safest society in history.
When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody, it marks the first time a citizen has been killed during an interrogation. The System doesn't make mistakes, but something isn't right about the circumstances surrounding Hunter's death. Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector and a true believer in the System, is assigned to find out what went wrong. Immersing herself in neural recordings of the interrogation, what she finds isn't Hunter but rather a panorama of characters within Hunter's psyche: 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, and a sociopathic disembodied intelligence from the distant future.
Embedded in the memories of these impossible lives lies a code which Neith must decipher to find out what Hunter is hiding. In the static between these stories, Neith begins to catch glimpses of the real Diana Hunter—and, alarmingly, of herself. The staggering consequences of what she finds will reverberate throughout the world.
A dazzling, panoramic achievement, and Nick Harkaway's most brilliant work to date, Gnomon is peerless and profound, captivating and irreverent, as it pierces through strata of reality and consciousness, and illuminates how to set a mind free. It is a truly accomplished novel from a mind possessing a matchless wit infused with a deep humanity.
A Best Science Fiction Book of 2017 — The Guardian
From the widely acclaimed author of The Gone-Away World and Tigerman, comes a virtuosic new novel set in a near-future, high-tech surveillance state, that is equal parts dark comedy, gripping detective story, and mind-bending philosophical puzzle.

In the world of Gnomon, citizens are constantly observed and democracy has reached a pinnacle of 'transparency.' Every action is seen, every word is recorded, and the System has access to its citizens' thoughts and memories—all in the name of providing the safest society in history.
When suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in government custody, it marks the first time a citizen has been killed during an interrogation. The System doesn't make mistakes, but something isn't right about the circumstances surrounding Hunter's death. Mielikki Neith, a trusted state inspector and a true believer in the System, is assigned to find out what went wrong. Immersing herself in neural recordings of the interrogation, what she finds isn't Hunter but rather a panorama of characters within Hunter's psyche: 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, and a sociopathic disembodied intelligence from the distant future.
Embedded in the memories of these impossible lives lies a code which Neith must decipher to find out what Hunter is hiding. In the static between these stories, Neith begins to catch glimpses of the real Diana Hunter—and, alarmingly, of herself. The staggering consequences of what she finds will reverberate throughout the world.
A dazzling, panoramic achievement, and Nick Harkaway's most brilliant work to date, Gnomon is peerless and profound, captivating and irreverent, as it pierces through strata of reality and consciousness, and illuminates how to set a mind free. It is a truly accomplished novel from a mind possessing a matchless wit infused with a deep humanity.
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  • From the book My Mind On the Screen

    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."

    She is looking straight into the camera and her sincerity is palpable. A dozen different mood assessment softwares examine the muscles around her mouth and eyes. Her microexpressions verify her words. As a matter of course, the more sophisticated algorithms check for the telltale marks of Botox and of bioelectric stimulators that might allow her to fake that painful honesty, but no one really expects to find anything, and no one does.

    Polling data streams across the screen: 89 per cent believe the Witness was not at fault. Of the remainder of the population, the overwhelming majority believes that any culpability will turn out to be negligent rather than designed. Neith's own figures are even better: she has been called in to investigate the matter precisely because her personal probity is the highest ever measured. All but the most corrosively paranoid of the focus groups accept her good faith.

    It is a very good showing, even granting that the Witness has consistently high approval anyway. All the same, the discussion of Diana Hunter continues in the Public Sphere—as it should—until it is eclipsed by the next of the killings.

    ***

    Ninety minutes before, Mielikki Neith stares into her morning mirror, feeling the vertiginous uncertainty that sometimes comes with viewing one's own image, the inability to understand the meaning of her reflected face. She repeats her name, quite softly but with growing emphasis, hearing the noise and yet unable to connect it with the self she feels. Not that she is anyone else: not that any other collection of syllables or features would be better. It is the intermediation of physicality and naming, of being represented in biology or language,that doesn't sit with her in this disconnected instant. She knows it is simply a lingering trace of the dream state, but that does not alter herconviction—inappropriatelycellular, felt in blood and bone—that something is wrong.

    She is correct. In a few moments she will start work, and the day will set her inevitably on the path to the involuted Alkahest. She is just hours from her first meeting with weird, cartilaginous Lönnrot, just over a week from her loss of faith in everything she has believed in her life. As she steps out of her slippers and begins to wash, finding in the animal business of grooming the growing understanding of her body and its place in the process that is her, she is stepping not only on to the cracked white shower tray but also on to that road, the one that conducts her without let or hindrance to a point of crisis: to endings andapocatastasis. She apprehends this now with knowledge she has, from her limited vantage point inside the flow of events, not yet gleaned—but that knowledge is so significant that its echo reaches her even here, gathered in the slipstream of the Chamber of Isis and the most complex and saintly murder in the history of crime. Neith's consciousness is etiolated this morning because it touches itself irregularly along its own extension in time, a contact that makes her almost—but, crucially, not quite—prescient. Instead of foresight, the Inspector gets a migraine, and in that small difference she sets her feet on the pattern that must eventually lead her to all the things I have already mentioned, but most fatefully—fatally—to me.

    ***

    I can see my mind on the screen

    The Inspector awoke this morning, as...
About the Author-
  • NICK HARKAWAY is the author of three previous novels, The Gone-Away World, Angelmaker, and Tigerman, as well as a nonfiction work about digital culture, The Blind Giant: Being Human in a Digital World. He is also a regular blogger for The Bookseller's FutureBook website. He lives in London with his wife, a human rights lawyer, and their two children.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    September 1, 2017

    In a world dominated by high-tech government surveillance, state inspector Mielikki Neith is asked to investigate when suspected dissident Diana Hunter dies in custody and discovers that Diana had sought to slow the investigation by unfurling stories about fantastic characters, from an ancient Carthaginian alchemist to a London-based Ethiopian painter designing a boundary-breaking video game. Just the sort of literary-gilded dystopia to expect from the frequently best-booked Harkaway (Tigerman).

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from November 27, 2017
    Harkaway’s inventive, mind-bending, and mesmerizing novel interweaves a detective story set in the future with disparate tales of a Carthaginian alchemist, a Greek investment banker, and an Ethiopian painter. Harkaway imagines London in the not-too-distant future as a city where technology meets all security, medical, transportation, informational, and scheduling needs; facilitates democratic decision-making; and monitors emotional well-being. When 61-year-old refusenik Diana Hunter (she prefers books to electronics) dies in custody, Insp. Mielikki Neith investigates. Using the Witness machine to examine Hunter’s last thoughts, Neith discovers a puzzling mix of narratives: the story of alchemist Athenais Karthagonensis, Saint Augustine’s former lover, kidnapped and taken to the Chamber of Isis; the adventures of Constantine Kyriakos, a financial shark who gains wealth and fame after a near-fatal encounter with an actual shark; and the recollections of Berihun Bekele, a painter from Addis Ababa who comes out of retirement to create artwork for his granddaughter, the designer of a computer game so powerful the British government wants to buy her company. As Neith separates clues from red herrings, Harkaway (Tigerman) reveals a digital dystopia of constant communication, information saturation, and diminishing humanity. Literary spelunkers in particular will enjoy decrypting his social science fiction, rich in literary, historical, and pop culture references and laced with humor and linguistic sleight of hand.

  • Kirkus

    November 15, 2017
    Beguiling, multilayered, sprawling novel that blends elements of Philip K. Dick-tinged sci-fi, mystery, politics, and literary fiction in a most satisfying brew.In surveying, a gnomon is a set square used to mark right angles on a chart. "By extension," writes the genre-hopping British novelist Harkaway (Tigerman, 2014, etc.), "it means something perpendicular to everything else, such as the upright part of a sundial." It is different from its surroundings, and so is everything that police investigator Mielikki Neith (as in 'neath, where hidden things are to be found) learns about the case just assigned to her: it involves a dissident, now deceased, in a near-future society where citizens patrol each other by means of social media, totalitarianism with a thin veneer of friendly hyperdemocracy, all committee work and political correctness. In this world, Diana Hunter, "a writer of obscurantist magical realist novels" read in fragmentary samizdat editions, harbored antinomian thoughts--and, given the recent news that the brain remains conscious for at least a short time after death, it makes sense that Neith should try to get inside her brain to ferret out subversion. That's not easy, for Hunter has laid land mines throughout in the form of odd diversionary characters: ancient mathematicians, Roman legionaries, and other formidable obstacles who share Hunter's "bad attitude." The possibilities in the story are endless, and Harkaway looks into most of them, it seems, firing off brilliant lines ("The universe has cancer," "Thousands and thousands of years, thousands of bodies, thousands of minds combined into one, and your best answer to pain is still revenge?"). Although he doesn't go out of his way to advertise the fact, Harkaway is the son of John le Carre, and from his father he has inherited a feel for the world-weary tediousness of police work. Yet there's no Smiley in the smiley-face future world where being a fascist busybody is a badge of honor--though enigmas abound, to be sure.Fans of Pynchon and William Gibson alike will devour this smart, expertly written bit of literary subversion.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Nick Harkaway
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