Review: Flashforward

FlashforwardFlashforward by Robert J. Sawyer
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I’ll say this for Robert Sawyer, he’s got some great concepts. Sadly, this book doesn’t have much more than that. 

The basic premise is this: at a certain point, for reason or reasons (mostly) unknown, the entirety of humanity shuts down for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, during which time they “Flash Forward” 21 years (plus some months, weeks and days) into the future and catch a glimpse of their future lives.

Naturally, while they are out, their meat bodies collapse, leading to wonton death and destruction amongst those who were driving cars or in surgery or in any of a multitude of other activities which require consciousness for safety. The main focus in the book are two scientists (Lloyd Simcoe and Theo Procopides) at CERN who are conducting an experiment with the Large Hadron Collider trying to find the Higgs Boson particle (the book, written in 1999, takes place mostly in 2009 and the particle was actually discovered in 2012). It is initially thought their experiment is what brings about the time displacement (later the probable cause is actually discovered and they were partially right). The plot follows the fallout of this future glimpse through the eyes of Simcoe, Procopides and, to a lesser extent, a few other, minor characters.

The problem I have with the book is that, ultimately, I don’t care. Simcoe is the pragmatic one. His vision showed him something which he can’t accept and he propagates a “time is fixed” attitude to absolve himself of culpability of the deaths of millions due to his experiment. As far as he’s concerned there is no mutability and whatever will happen has happened and will always happen. So from him we get some really cool scientific theories and history (and a great shout out to Kaunas!) but very little character development. It’s almost as if Sawyer had some really cool principles he wanted to write about and used Simcoe as his mouth piece.

Procopides, on the other hand, has no vision, which means he must be dead in the future. After a brief bit of digging, he discovers he’d been murdered a day before the visions happened. Ah-ha! A murder mystery with the victim investigating his own death! (sure, the film D.O.A. in 1950 but

Me in the CERN tunnel – not shooting anyone

that’s okay) This could be cool and exciting. Except it’s not. Yes, there’s a climactic shootout in the CERN LHC tunnel, but the investigation has really been sidelined and doesn’t lead to the shoot out.

At the end of it all, Sawyer has given us 10 hours (330 pages) of “the future is what you make it, so make it good.” And he hasn’t done a very convincing job of it. His prose is clunky and over-written. While listening, I kept asking myself why, exactly, he was telling us what people were eating or why he was going into detail of having the wrong person answer the phone and then go off to get the right person. The verisimilitude is wonderful, but honestly, it’s boring as all get out. I want to know why I’m reading this. What is it the author is trying to tell me, what’s the point of all of it. And with Flashforward, it seems there really is no point.

That all said, from everything I’ve read, the TV show based on the book is actually much better and worth taking a look at.

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