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ⓘ Gnomon (novel)




Gnomon (novel)
                                     

ⓘ Gnomon (novel)

Gnomon is a 2017 science fiction novel by British author Nick Harkaway. The book deals with a state that exerts ubiquitous surveillance on its population. A detective investigates a murder through unconventional methods that leads to questions about her societys very nature.

                                     

1. Plot summary

In a near future United Kingdom, now governed by a continuous direct democracy called the System, all of Britain is under constant surveillance by the nigh-omniscient AI called "The Witness." The Witness AI is purported to be completely impartial, doing nothing "unless public safety requires it. their thoughts distributed between a large number of individual brains" by a form of instantaneous communication. Gnomon is a particularly large hive mind composed of the cast off, undesirable parts of many other individuals and is obsessed with preventing the end of the universe and the birth of replacement ones. Gnomon meets with an enormous hive mind the size of a planet called Zagreus, who offers Gnomon access to the Chamber of Isis from the Athenais narrative. The chamber acts as a sort of time machine. In exchange for access to the Chamber, Zagreus demands that Gnomon "kill the banker, the alchemist, the artist and the librarian." Neith believes this was a counter-narrative Smith devised to break Hunter.

During her investigation, Neith discovers Lonnrot and attempts to chase the fugitive through London. She discovers that the System cannot, will not, see Lonnrot - wherever Lonnrot goes, the system deliberately does not look. The revelation that the System has been compromised shakes Neiths faith in it. If the Systems omniscience has been corrupted, what else has been?

Oliver Smith is murdered in an Underground tunnel. During her investigation, Neith is forced to conclude that Smith was torn apart by a gigantic shark, despite the fact that the tunnel is nowhere near the water.

In Hunters narratives, Kyriakos is kidnapped by Nikolaos Megalos, a man who is ostensibly an Orthodox Patriarch in the Order of St. Augustine and St. Spyridon but who is actually a Greek nationalist. Kyriakos had, through his prophetic stock market manipulations driven by the apparently godlike shark, become famously wealthy but also wiped out the investments of Megalos. Despite this, Megalos tells Kyriakos that he can resurrect his dead girlfriend by having someone symbiotically become her if Kyriakos will turn his god the shark over to him and help him gain access to the Chamber of Isis. Megalos brings him to an idyllic Greek village, has him meet the woman who will become Stella, and then shows Kyriakos that the Chamber of Isis can be found in Witnessed, where Kyriakos found it once before during a drug-addled party.

Athenais, meanwhile, enters the Underworld and crosses four of the five rivers of Hades, at one point becoming the shark that ate the watch Kyriakos dropped. She meets a demon, who she refers to as Know-All, who gives her mysterious advice and tells she must become a god and the Alkahest to resurrect her son. The last river, Phlegethon, though is not a river of fire, as she expects, but a wall of fire that she cannot pass through.

Berihun Bekele remembers painting a portrait of Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia, before being arrested by the Derg during the 1974 revolution. Bekele relives his escape from the Alem Bekagn prison in Addis Ababa, where he created paintings of the Chamber of Isis in his cell just before his execution then walked through the walls to escape. Bekele believes he must do this again to save himself and his granddaughter, who are trapped in a safe room in his house during a fire caused by racist terrorists.

Finally, Gnomon enters the Chamber and finds its personality fractured, believing this to be a betrayal by Zagreus. As it reassembles itself in a new vessel, it becomes Lonnrot and attacks Neith in Hunters home.

Neith discovers that Oliver Smith was one of five Fire Judges, figures who can control the System. She discovers that Hunter was one as well, and that they took apart the personality of Anna Magdalena because she supposedly suffered from a rare form of epilepsy that caused her to suffer from "transient delusional paranoia." Afterward, Magdalena worked with Hunter, who felt sorry for what she had done to her.

                                     

2. Reception

In The Independent, Darragh McManus gave a negative review, calling the book a "baffling utopian epic ladled with elegant nonsense." While praising Harkaway for "writing women extremely well" "Hunter, Neith and Athenais are the books most vivid creations and strongest elements", and saying "there are a lot of things to enjoy in Gnomon," she nevertheless felt it was "hugely confusing."

Its not the length, though the novel is much too long. Its not that Harkaway has a tendency to overwrite: both in labouring a point or observation before labouring it some more, and using arcane and possibly non-existent words where a normal, widely-known one was available. reads like the first draft of what might have been a tighter 400-page book rather than a rambling 700-pager. Progress is routinely halted by sketchy Wikipedia-style exposition-dumps about tidal flow or behavioural economics, or a character asking herself a whole page or two of questions about what just happened, or vague disquisitions on the meaning of identity. Things are repeatedly explained, unnecessarily." Still, Poole also said, "Such defects wouldnt be so annoying were it not obvious that Nick Harkaway can sometimes be a very good writer indeed. Readers who are prepared to mentally edit the book as they go along, as the author and editor have not, will encounter a host of highly enjoyable fragments and suggestive ideas."

For NPR, Jason Sheehan gave a mixed review, saying, "its a big book, a digressive book, and it contains so much that it sometimes feels like Diana Hunters house is supposed to feel like a museum of curiosities trapped between two covers and shaken vigorously. You cant help but be hooked by a detail here, a tic of recursive language there, until suddenly, you know things about Isis, ocean water or the Thames that you never thought would be interesting until Harkaway dangled them in front of you."

For Tor.com, Niall Alexander gave a very positive review. "its vast canvas takes in tales of inexplicable ancient history, our appallingly prescient present and, fittingly, the far flung future, all of which orbit Gnomon’s central Orwellian thread like spy satellites on an imminent collision course." Alexander called the twisting narrative "a puzzle that proves a pleasure to pursue," complaining only that "when answers are handed to us on pretty little platters, it cheapens an experience so rich as to be remarkable in every remaining respect." Alexander concluded,

In its cautionary characters and in its careful construction, in its incredible creativity and in its conversely very credible commentary, Harkaways latest is likely his greatest. As in The Gone-Away World and Angelmaker before it, the macro is simply magnificent - Gnomon bursts at the seams with appealing ideas, powerfully put, and perhaps more relevant than ever - but bolstered as it is by the micro that made Tigerman so moving at the same time as being buttressed by the authors inquiries into the meaning of life in the digital era in The Blind Giant, this isnt just a big, brash book about technology or horology, its a breathtakingly bold, barely-tamed beast of a read about being human in an increasingly alien age.

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