the guardian Sat 24 January 2009
In the aftermath of an apocalyptic war, an anonymous narrator and his colleagues are hired to put out a fire in a pipeline operated by a sinister multinational corporation. But not before he has reflected in exhaustive detail on his early life, university career and years spent fighting in the Go Away War, a conflict waged with antimatter weapons designed to produce "a controlled editing of the world". A controlled editing is what this book could sorely do with: Harkaway's model may be the digressive meanderings of martial arts movies, but his asides on ninjas, rodents, antipasto and the like would be more tolerable if his style were less afflicted with verbose flourishes such as "perforce" and "folderol". At one point the hero claims to be trapped in the Hell of Not Getting Shot, and is reminded how his grandmother had "a personal collection of hells for every aspect of suffering ... a Hell of Crawling Flies, a Hell of Scratchy Undergarments and a Hell of Lukewarm Soup". To say nothing of the Hell of Excruciatingly Over-written Science Fiction Novels.