Monday, 15 August 2016

Flashforward - Robert J. Sawyer

'He used his index finger to gently lift Michiko’s chin. He was all set with the words—duty, responsibility, work to be done, we have to go—but Michiko was strong in her own way, too, and wise, and wonderful, and he loved her to her very soul, and the words didn’t need to be said. She managed a small nod, her lips trembling. “I know,” she said in English, in a tiny, raw voice. “I know we have to head back to CERN.”'

I’ll start off with this: I read Flashforward because I loved the TV show with the same name that came out i
n 2009 and which was very very very loosely based on this book), so it’s fair you expect to hear lots of comparisons between these two. I’ll try and review the book as a separate entity, however. Oh, and as a curious detail – I read most of this book while taking a train to St. Petersburg and the rest while wandering around the city.

So, the book has this premise: One day, the whole planet Earth blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. Every single human consciousness not only tunes out from the present moment, but also jumps 20 years into the future. People see relationships ruined, new ones started, children and husbands and graves and for some, nothing. Many die in car crashes, plane crashes or simply walking down the stairs as the event occurs. In the centre of the book are a group of scientists who ran an experiment at the time the Flashforward occurred, leaving them to worry and wonder whether they caused this horrible massacre without knowing it or ever meaning to.

‘Who would have thought that two people who had scrimped and saved and sacrificed year after year to buy each other lavish Christmas presents as tokens of their loves would end up using legal claws to pry those presents back from the only person in the world to whom they meant anything?’

Flashforward tackles many interesting science fiction and philosophical concepts, like the many-worlds interpretation, the whole “will we have flying cars in 20 years?” question, the concept of free will. Every once in a while it also has beautiful insights to human life, like the quotes I picked out, but those are way too rare and all too precious.

Without Snapchat filters, you'd never
know the location or the weather!
(sorry not very)
The book has many characters from whose point of view the Flashforwards are discussed, which is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, this provides variety and makes the event itself more interesting, but on the other no one really gets enough time to become interesting as a character. Another thing the book handles really well is discussing the worldwide – it seems actually interested in what happens in China, what people in Russia do et cetera. This goes into so much detail it’s almost like the book is more interested in being a case study on the phenomenon than providing an actual story.

Not that I really minded; it’s an incredibly interesting case study and I can see how taking the plot in any one direction could have changed that. And the plot does change that; somewhere in the last third it takes an incredibly weird turn I didn’t like and that I couldn’t relate to, something that was just plain… weird. Unfitting for the book and something I didn’t care about. It was a brief 30 or so pages of “I wanted to write a different book after all” and probably took a full point from my rating of it.

Quick comparison to the TV show (which I would recommend if the Flashforward as a concept interests you and if you don’t mind that it never got renewed for a second season) – the TV show has a Flashforward only six months in the future and focuses on FBI agents trying to figure out why it happened (the main characters in the book play minor roles in it). The plot is much more contained and, well, it’s an actual plot. The TV show only briefly mentions the existence of any other continents, in a proper USA style, but it handles its few characters better. Long story short; the book does a good job on the Flashforward itself but don’t expect a stellar plot from it. Still, worth the read.

I have to confess I haven’t read any other works by Robert J. Sawyer but I’ll make it a point in my endless to-do list to… do. Obviously I should; anyone remotely interested in science fiction should. Flashforward wasn’t bad but I’m sure he can do better.

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