The mind is a mysterious thing. It keeps our secrets safe, imagines distant futures and stores our memories. What if your mind was recorded so that, in the event of a crime, someone could play back its memories like a cassette tape? Would doing this make society safer? Or would our perception of ourselves cease to exist? Gnomon, Nick Harkaway’s kaleidoscopic, mind-bending novel, pulls the reader into a mental vortex and never lets go.
In a society controlled by an advanced AI, everything is recorded, right down to individual thoughts. When Diana Hunter, a suspected revolutionary, dies in government custody, intrepid state investigator Mielikki Neith combs through Hunter’s memories to discover why. She finds memories not from one person but several, including an Ethiopian painter, an alchemist from ancient Carthage and a violent pseudoconscience from the distant future. The investigation propels Neith on a journey to discover the true identity of Diana Hunter, all while trying to maintain her own sanity.
Reading Gnomon is a bit like driving a car at high speed—at some point, you’re just trying to hold on. The narrative barrels forward, building feverishly with the multilayered dimensions of Hunter’s mind. Neith serves as the reader’s safe harbor, a calm and determined truth-seeker who balances the book’s many perspectives.
The deep forays into Hunter’s memories give the story incredible potency. The personalities Harkaway builds leap off the page, bringing full color to a string of existential quandaries with which the author challenges the reader. At every turn, we find ourselves considering the philosophical depths of the mind, the limit of consciousness and whether coincidences are in fact universal patterns.
With Tigerman and The Gone-Away World, Harkaway gave a glimpse of the confidence and fearlessness he delivers here in spades. With Gnomon, he has landed in the sci-fi pantheon. Glimpses of William Gibson, Ridley Scott and Alan Moore abound, but in the end, Harkaway has found a deep, sometimes terrifying future-scape all for himself, one that surprises and challenges right to the last firing synapse.