Flashforward, Robert J. Sawyer

Tor, 1999, 319 pages, C$34.95 hc, ISBN 0-312-86712-3

One might wonder at the reason behind Robert J. Sawyer’s current success. Certainly, the author’s tireless auto-promotion has something to do with it. The regularity with which he publishes is another, at roughly a novel per year since 1990. His direct, journalistic prose is easy to read. His professionalism is obvious; he always deliver the goods with each successive book.

In other words, Robert J. Sawyer truly understands and produces what the average reader demands of SF: Easy, captivating yarns built around the solid core of an idea and wrapped in professional characters and plotting. His latest, Flashforward, is almost a textbook example of how to write a fair contemporary SF novel.

The premise is a good one: Following a high-energy physics experiment at CERN, everyone on the planet experiences two subjective minutes of a future twenty years away while their “objective” bodies lose consciousness. The immediate repercussions are horrendous: Thousands of people are injured or killed as they blank out in dangerous situations. But the long-term effects are even more significant as everyone correlate their individual visions and find out that they all refer to the same future…

Fantasy concept, sure, but Sawyer manages to make us willingly suspend our disbelief. In the process, he raises concepts of free-will, of fate, of guilt, of the non-eternal duration of love. Sawyer aficionados won’t be surprised to see Sawyer’s usual matrimony/theology themes weaved in all of this. Heady stuff, but adequately presented in digestible bites.

The concept leads itself to some delicious situations: A man investigating his own upcoming murder, a marrying couple knowing they won’t be together twenty years later, a writer with a glimpse in his non-upcoming-greatness, a president-to-be harassed with congratulation calls, a future-couple uncomfortably meeting for the first time… Flashforward really benefits from these touches of irony, which compensate for the thin -but well-handled- characters.

There are a few flaws, like the dubious “everyone-asleep-was-dreaming” assumption (hasn’t Sawyer heard of deep sleep?). The ending is a bit rushed, with the typical Sawyer last-chapter paradigm leap. As usual, Sawyer’s ideas exceed his executive capacity -intentionally?-, and hard-core SF readers can’t be faulted for take the author to task for being a bit pedestrian. But most readers will love it.

Otherwise, there really isn’t much to say about Flashforward. Fans will like it, with most agreeing that it’s one of his best books yet. It does wraps up a bit easily and could benefit from less conventional writing, but it’s hard to fault such an easily-readable novel (don’t bother with bookmarks) for being too accessible. As usual, a sure choice for the major awards.

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