The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway (Shane's book 24, 2008)

Most reviews of The Gone-Away World tend to dwell on Nick Harkaway's parentage. It's not terribly relevant. Harkaway's debut is speculative fiction which mixes bits of sci-fi and fantasy with a good measure of surreal humour. It has more in common with early Neal Stephenson or Michael Marshall Smith than John Le Carre. The story opens in a post-apocalyptic world devastated by something called the Go Away Bomb. Designed to be a perfect weapon, one that simply erases bits of reality, the bomb turned out to have an awful side effect: the fallout from the bomb restructured reality, bringing people's thoughts to life as bizarre and often horrific mutations. The only thing keeping people safe is a substance called FOX which, when pumped out of a globe-encircling pipe, neutralises the fallout.

Understandably then, news that the pipe has caught fire is not good. To the rescue come our nameless narrator, his friend Gonzo Lubitsch and their team of mercenaries. As they head for the fire, Harkaway takes us back to the narrator's childhood with Gonzo, the development of the Go Away Bomb and the outbreak of the war. Along the way there is a very funny satire of student politics ("Society may - or may not - be teleologically oriented towards penetrative modes, but there's no question about Aline."), a band of pirates, a secret martial arts order and lots of ninjas.

It's a lot of fun but not without its weaknesses. At more than 500 pages the plot would have benefited from tightening and Harkaway has a tendency towards bombastic imagery, which reads like someone trying too hard to establish a voice. Finally, the novel's big twist is so similar to the big twist of another cult novel that even naming the book I'm thinking of would give the game away.

All that aside, this is an enjoyably quirky novel and an ideal holiday read.