by Robert Sawyer
Flashforward, a novel by Canadian sci-fi author Robert Sawyer, no doubt made more popular by the ABC series by the same name, is the story of a handful of CERN scientists who are experimenting to prove the existence of the Higgs boson particle. One moment, Lloyd Simcoe and his associates are in a CERN lab counting down the final seconds to flipping the switch to activate the huge particle collider, and the next moment they are about twenty years older. Simcoe sees himself in a cottage in New England lying in bed with a woman he’s never met.
It takes them a little while, but the scientists realize that they were not the only ones whose consciousness shifted. News reports from around the world, detailing catastrophic devastation and confusion, indicate to them that the events at CERN are directly related to the flashforwards. How can that be proven? How much responsibility should CERN assume for hundreds of thousands of deaths and destruction of property into the billions of dollars? Finding answers leads to more questions and finally to a worldwide decision to recreate the event.
What I Liked
After the flashforward, the characters discuss their differing philosophical and metaphysical viewpoints in order to explain their experience. They discuss the idea of time travel, consciousness, eternal life, human volition versus free will. Were the flashes real future events or simply what could be? I enjoyed the verbal exchange of ideas among the characters. In fact, within a few pages, the reader will find a conversation that includes several theories with little or no explanation of a thought process or development of the idea. It’s as though the reader needs to already know what the characters are discussing.
What I Disliked
While most fiction books feature a human character who undergoes a trial or change, who learns an important lesson, or who comes of age, Flashforward’s main character is an Idea, or Theory. The people are only there to help explain the Idea. They lend words, theories, and experience, but the driving force of the book is the flashforward. The characters do not have to learn anything because they are already the foremost scientists and physicists in the world. They neither grow nor change. As a reader, I enjoy getting lost in the story. But in Flash Forward, there isn’t a sympathetic character or a grand tale in which to be lost for a few hours. Even though one main character’s life was in danger, I wasn’t at all concerned for his safety, and, honestly, maybe even looked forward to his death. The worst part for me though was the 2001: A Space Odyssey-like ending.
The bottom line: Flashforward is very interesting, but I missed connecting with a favorite character. The main question my friends have asked me since I read the book is, How does it compare to the t.v. show? If you’re a fan of the show, don’t worry — they aren’t very similar. Reading the book will not spoil the television series.