A fast-paced adventure through a world like no other, following unique, quirky characters on the journey of their lifetime. Plenty of novels are set in domes, but none are as colourful, spellbinding, and inventive as Travelling Without Moving.
Earth is in ruins, uninhabitable, and the remaining population live in bio-domes. A Roman tribesman, Napalm Carton, believes that life in his clockwork habitat is some kind of lie. A trap, or a construct, or an experiment gone wrong, whatever. Post-apocalyptic existence makes no sense to him, and all he wants to do is escape to the reality beyond the dome of lies.
Spurred on by visions, Napalm creates a multiplayer game called tickets, with the intention of opening a door to the next level of existence. He needs the help of his sceptical friends, but first, he has to convince them that the tickets are more than a game. He also needs to confirm his suspicions that someone or something is trying to steal his invention before it’s game over for everyone.
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Kaputt, the setting for Traveling Without Moving, is a curved bio-dome housing the post-apocalyptic survivors of Earth. Divided by a wall, Kaputt's population is split into an eastern half: Kaputt Real, and a western: The Americas, with travel forbidden between the two sides. On most days, the dome’s interior surface is an opaque white, but on Cleardays, the dome becomes transparent, revealing “earth’s dead landscape and purple poisoned skies.”
Mysteries hang over Kaputt (who created the bio-dome? what happened to Earth?) but most residents seem indifferent to the questions, and hostile to the answers. But one citizen, when not shaking off ethanol, Napalm Carton, the deeply (perhaps irremediably) flawed hero of this funny, imaginative and challenging punk novel (filled with exhilarating wordplay and inspired pop references) pursues the true nature of Kaputt’s reality as he simultaneously tries to escape reality through booze, drugs and “tickets,” a slippery term though defined in the novel’s 17-page glossary (you will need it) as “tiny clockwork automatons embedded in a paper medium, designed for ingestion. The automatons are small enough to engage with the cogs of the brain, releasing various drugs and stimulants that create virtual, shared realities, played out like games.”
Designed by Napalm Carton himself while attending Kaputt’s Omniversity, the tickets challenge the characters (and readers) to navigate many levels of reality. With his girlfriend Mokey, and buddies Cloche and Liquid, Napalm takes many trips within trips within trips. Fortunately, author Nathan Jones has grounded all the high-flying with a brilliantly conceived and detailed world, mad for sure, but relatable.
Kaputt’s population is divided into tribes which include Gauls, Egyptians, Dravidians, Osterreichisch, Cro-Mags, Aztecs, Elamites, Hamites, Grimaldies, Phonecians, Nipponese, Huns and many others, each tribe with its own hallmarks (technologies). Napalm is a Roman, a resident of NewRome in “southwest Kaputt Real, east of the Dividing Wall, south of Albion, and west of Osterreich and Skaney.” NewRome tower, the dome’s prime spot for entertainment venues, sits close to ThinkDom; an organisation which may be the location of the brains behind Kaputt, perhaps the Main Computer itself.
Each tribe has its hallmarks (technologies) and societal norms: The Siamese, for example, guided by Main Computer, bring forth children who are the lawmakers and governors of Kaputt Real. The children prescribe actions that maximize happiness and wellbeing for all individuals. Hallmarks of the Romans include colors (emotion stimulants), homoroids (a variety of drugs with restorative, stimulant and healing properties) and ethanol.
Although Napalm puts on his pants one leg at a time, and gets about in pearls (horseless, pearlescent carriages) like everyone else in Kaputt, he sees the Bio-Dome differently. While others can see forever on Cleardays, that is see through the dome to the sad old earth outside, he sees only the Dome’s rusted opaque surface. Are the others seeing only an illusion? Or is he the deluded one? He wants to break out and know reality. “Rousing his determination to progress, Napalm felt the unfamiliar distant throb of genuine emotion.”
Traveling Without Moving’s subtitle is “A post-Apocalyptic, Clockpunk, Dystopian Mystery Sci-Fi Hot Fever Dream Type-Thing.” That’s somewhat understated.
(Edited for spoilers and inaccuracies by Nathan Jones)