Friday, 16 October 2009

‘FlashForward’ – Robert J. Sawyer (Gollancz)


What would you do if you saw a vision of your own future? It depends really doesn’t it...? If I saw something good then I would probably take a couple of days out to chill out and make a serious dent in the reading pile, secure in the knowledge that everything works out in the end.
What if I saw something nasty happening to myself? I guess I’d do whatever I could to stop it happening but would it be as simple as that? Is the future set in stone or can it be changed? Robert J. Sawyer attempts to answer these questions in ‘FlashForward’...

I don’t have a television myself but I do know that ‘FlashFoward’ has just started showing on Channel Five. I haven’t actually seen the show myself and don’t want to inadvertently give away any spoilers; this means that today you only get the barest synopsis I’m afraid...
A worldwide event occurs where, without warning, everyone loses consciousness for two minutes. The death toll is catastrophic but the survivors are faced with a bigger problem. During the blackout, most people glimpsed a vision of their future (twenty years down the line) but others saw nothing at all.
How do you continue your life either knowing for certain what your future holds or knowing that you have less than twenty years to live? People are about to find out...

‘FlashForward’ is a relatively short and quick read (weighing in at a respectable three hundred and twelve pages long) that manages to pack a lot into a small amount of room. As I found out, this had a negative outcome, for the book, as well as a positive one...

Sawyer focuses on the efforts of a small group of people to cope with their new found knowledge, showing what’s going on for the rest of the world via news headlines. This gives the reader the opportunity to really get inside people’s heads and experience the phenomenon at first hand.
For the most part this is a good approach that allows ‘FlashForward’ to function as a character study as well as a mystery. As well as figuring out what caused the ‘FlashForward’, certain characters must also figure out the cause of their eventual fate and try to avoid it. In this way, ‘FlashForward’ also becomes a thoughtful and exploratory piece that examines the nature of destiny and free will. This is a lot to cram into a small book and it is perhaps inevitable that something has to give...

Sawyer has a habit of dumping great chunks of information on his reader that pertains to all the science surrounding the discussion over the ‘FlashForward’. These explanatory pieces are long and quite involved (at least for me) and end up interrupting the human interest side of the tale. Not only does this interrupt the flow of the book but it also comes out in the most inappropriate places. Two scientists debating whether or not to get married (because of a vision) suddenly start throwing various theories at each other to back up their arguments. This wouldn’t be so bad but they have to explain these theories in great details. It’s obvious at that point that this ‘infodump’ is purely for the reader and doesn’t fit in with the characters or story at all.
Similarly, Sawyer takes a lot of time to explain the workings of various bits of machinery and organisations; this is time that could be better spent telling the story. You know, the thing we came to read? If you’re picking up a sci-fi book like this then you either know what the author is referring to or you know just enough to have a fairly good idea. If you’re watching the show then you may know it all already! Having it all spelt out doesn’t do anything for the story at all.

It’s a real shame that the book is like this as Sawyer does a great job with the characters and their various journeys. It’s left up to the reader to make up their own mind regarding the fixed nature of destiny as events in the book leave the whole thing up in the air. I think that’s the way it should be and leaving things open ended certainly got me thinking about what was going on. It’s just a shame about the info-dumps...

What the characters go through is poignant at the very least and can be heart breaking when the book is at it’s most intense. Sawyer does well to show his reader how things can either turn out as expected or change and sometimes the person doing their best to prevent something is merely hastening it along... Some of the situations arising from this are worth sticking around to read as are the descriptions of how the characters work their way through it all.

‘FlashForward’ has a great concept underpinning the story and flashes of brilliance show what this story could have been were it allowed to breathe a little more. It’s a shame then that the clunkiness of the ‘infodumps’ really hamper the pace and suffocate the plot. Is it worth giving the TV show a shot instead?

Seven out of Ten

5 comments:

Simon said...

I'm not sure about the TV series, the first episode was pretty good but it's already getting too 'soapy' for my liking. I've a horrible feeling it'll drag for years with no real resolution, seems to be the thing to do in the states...

The Mad Hatter said...

I enjoyed the book a lot when I read it a few years back. The show definitely seems to improve the human element.

My favorite Sawyer is Calculating God, which is one of the best Phi-Fi books ever. Phi-Fi is Sawyers term for Philosophical Fiction, which he is known for.

-The Mad Hatter
Mad Hatter's Bookshelf & Book Review

logankstewart said...

So far I've watched every episode and I've really liked the show. I do hope the end is in site and that there will be resolution soon-ish (a few seasons, perhaps?). Who knows?

B Rock said...

The show is awesome. I'm totally hooked, but I've not read the book either.

suzie said...

The show is actually really interesting. I didn't realize there was a book - I'm definitely going to have to check it out!