In the very near future of 2009, two physicists working on a complicated experiment accidentally thrust the collective consciousness of the entire world ahead twenty-one years. Although the "flash forward," as it's later named, lasts only minutes, the aftermath is catastrophic. Not only are millions of people killed in accidents caused by their sudden and brief departure from the present (i.e. plane and car crashes, falls down stairs, etc.), but those who survived find themselves emotionally rocked by their respective (and sometimes shared) glimpses of the future. The two scientists are left to piece together what happened, while also trying to figure out whether or not the future they all saw was fixed or just one of many possible outcomes.
I enjoyed this book very much: the story itself was fascinating, and thought-provoking, and the author is clearly an intelligent man with an intriguing imagination. However, I had a big problem with the execution of the story; Mr. Sawyer's a great storyteller, to be sure, but an awkward, almost amateurish writer. While the book was an easy, accessible read, I found it to be equally as clunky and frustrating in parts -- especially his shockingly excessive use of the word "doubtless," which was so abundant that it became distracting and, toward the end, grated on my every nerve. (How his editors let it go to press with such a glaring flaw is beyond me.)
Still, I recommend this book to anyone who's interested in time travel and is looking for some light sci-fi reading. And, in spite of my feeling toward the author's technical skill as a writer (or lack thereof), the story itself was compelling enough to make me consider the idea of reading some of his other books.
on April 29, 2010
If you are a fan of the TV series, DO NOT buy this book. I am not saying this so that you can avoid the possibility of learning something you shouldn't know about what's coming up in the series. I, and I'm sure others too, started reading it with that very same motive once the mid-season hiatus took place. And I can assure you, you will NOT learn ANY of the series' many secrets if you read this book. The two are as different as can be, and the only character from the book that has any prominent role in the series is Lloyd Symcoe, and his character and its circumstances are VERY different. The creators of the TV series simply took the initial idea from the book but have developed characters and situations that are entirely unique. After getting hooked on the TV series, I must say that I find the book to be very disappointing. The series drives on intrigue, suspense, action, mystery, but the book is grounded in very dry science. The selection of the main character says it all: the TV series puts a federal agent at the heart of the story and watches as he tries to uncover secrets (a very wise choice), while the book revolves around the scientist who caused the "flash forward" and his team of scientists. I can't spell it out any clearer. While I do not wish to put down the novel or the novelist (who I applaud for his capable handling of very highly scientific concepts), I am more impressed by the way the show's creators have adapted it into something much more. This is a very good example of how to take someone else's fascinating idea and turn it into something that a greater audience could appreciate.
on August 31, 2009
A good idea, but handled wrong. Much of it isn't very believable, and I've read some pretty far-out stuff that was made believable by skilled authors. The characters are definitely cardboard cutouts, as many other reviewers have stated. I'm not even sure the author had a clear idea who they were. (You get the idea that Lloyd Simcoe is generally reserved/timid in the beginning of the book, but then later on he walks out on a press conference, unflustered, saying something like, "That's it. I'm outta here." I think I laughed out loud at that.) The dialogue is just sad, and there's very little action. The writing is pretty terrible too, with cliches littered here and there---and a decent editor was certainly called for.
I thought the concept was good. But, as I said, the execution was poor. I would have liked to have seen how everyday citizens reacted to their future visions, and how they tried to change them or help them come to fruition. Less pseudoscience, more fiction.
on July 6, 2003
The one thing that made this novel a somewhat mixed pleasure is the authors need to explain all. Not only the question why and how a flash forward is possible, if we live in a predetermined universe or if we can change our fate, but to top it with his vision about the fate of humanity.
That last piece was a) totally unnecessary for the rest of the story, but b) left a very stale taste in the mind. In other words: it diminished an excellent book to (just) very good.
I observed the same thing in "Calculating God". If Sawyer just knew when to stop, it would IMHO make his novels so much better. A similar story is told by James Hogan in "Thrice upon a Time" and since it is much more focused, it is a better novel.
In this one the potential is there for so much more, but the author overreaches. In a way he was on flash forward too...
on October 13, 2009
First, don't think this is the same story you will see on the new TV show based (very loosely) on this book. The characters, circumstances and even the duration of the flash forward event are completely different. While I have enjoyed the first few TV shows, I absolutely loved this book.
Set at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN the protagonists are physicists searching for the Higgs Boson. Robert Sawyer does an excellent job at creating a believable setting and using some very good speculative theoretical physics as the basis for the story. The author clearly knows his physics. The action is fast and fascinating - this is a page turner, very hard to put down. This is a book that stretches your mind while you are reading it, and which I will remember with the best of the Sci-Fi I've read. This was the first book I have read by Sawyer, but if the other ones are similar, I will rank him up with my favorites - Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and Pohl.
on January 31, 2010
Although I read quite a bit of science fiction, this book would never have caught my eye if I hadn't recently started watching the television series that it inspired. Anyone else interested in the book because of the TV series should understand up front that there is relatively little connection between the two. The central idea -- that all of humanity's consciousness is unexpectedly shifted into the future for two minutes -- is the same, and both stories share a character named Lloyd Simcoe, a scientist who may or may not have been responsible. But otherwise the plots differ in every detail.
The broad themes are similar, exploring variations on the conflict between free will and destiny. There are characters who are inspired by their visions to seek out and cause the future it reveals; others rebel against or fatalistically resign themselves to their disappointing futures, with varying degrees of success. So the television series and the novel probe the same philosophical questions. But details ranging from the length of the future jump (21 years vs. 9 months) to the characters, setting and storyline are different, giving rise to completely different narratives. Some of these choices were inevitable due to the different formats. The television show must reach the 9-month event horizon by the end of the broadcast season, after all. FBI agents make for more compelling prime-time drama than particle physicists, and mysterious, partially glimpsed bad guys keep us tuning in to find out what happens next.
It is the wider themes, however, rather than the plot details, which make it an intriguing science fiction book. The flash forward in time provides an intriguing and original way to explore questions of consciousness, free will, and even time travel. These are all fascinating questions and make for interesting speculative fiction in Sawyer's hands. I also enjoyed the digressions into the philosophical interpretations of quantum mechanics: the observer paradox, many-worlds theory, and so on. These were generally integrated well, without sounding too much like didactic asides.
The biggest flaw of the novel is the somewhat weak writing and editing. There are typographical errors that should never have made it past a middle-school teacher, let alone a competent editor -- "you're" for "your", "differ" for "defer", etc. If you're the type to notice this sort of thing, it will bother you. And the characters and dialogue, while serving to move the plot along fine, lack the depth and sparkle that characterizes a truly outstanding book.
The flaws are enough that the book is not destined to become a classic. But as some of the Nobel-hungry physicists in the book come to realize, intellectual pursuits need not win awards or immortality for their authors in order to be valuable. It's enough that the book is fun to read. The characters are fleshed out well enough that we do care about what comes next, and the speculative themes of consciousness and free will should provide ample food for thought for most science fiction fans.
on November 13, 2010
As with many other reviewers, I purchased this book after the TV series - which I loved - was canceled. Mr. Sawyer tells a compelling story - it's quality science fiction - but be aware that the book goes in a completely different direction than the TV series. The book is much more straightforward, while the TV series added many layers of characters and complexity, presumably for the Hollywood effect. Perhaps the TV series tried too hard leading to the show's demise? Usually the book goes into more depth than the screen version, but here it's the opposite.
Without spoiling anything, the only character the TV series keeps pretty much the same is Lloyd Simcoe. Most of the other TV characters are based from the book, but the TV writers twist things a great deal. Also, the flash-forward in the book is 21 years ahead, vastly different from the TV series. In short, the TV series only used the most basic and general ideas from the book. The book has no FBI angle; it's strictly the physicists and society that the plot centers around, and there's no deeper conspiracy at play.
I think many of the negative reviewers are being unfair. They are giving the book a low rating because they were frustrated when no answers to the show were provided, but that's not the purpose of the book; it was written before the TV series! One should review this book as a separate entity. Again, it is vastly different from the Tv series, but I still enjoyed both. It was cool to see a different take on the same theme.
So yes, if all you want is answers about the TV series, don't bother. If you want to enjoy a fun piece of sci-fi as it's own entity, I highly recommend it.
on January 6, 2016
(Spoiler Review) The characters could have been fleshed out more and I felt that the female characters were given the short shrift when it came to character development. (But, this is a flaw of many male writers, not just this one.) There is also a mish mash mixture of sound scientific theory interwoven in a fairly strong and complex story line that is weakened considerably toward the end with the addition of a liberal wash of unsubstantiated personal gnosis which left me puzzled. Like some other readers I was drawn to the book because I loved the TV series and wanted to see what happened (the second season of the series was cancelled). I readily accepted the fact that the characters (in the book) were different than the TV series and that most of the activity took place in the EU as opposed to the US (like the TV series). The book's strength lies in the mosaic story telling about multiple characters and how they were affected by the Flashforward and how simply advanced physics concepts are explained; my favorite being how 3 dimensional reality becomes 4 dimensional reality by adding the variable of "time" along the space time continuum. I was, however, troubled by: (1) the character Mr. Cheung (who identifies himself as Christian, several times, but, does not act in the least in according to the principles of Christianity); (2) the fact that in Lloyd Simcoe's millenic tableau vision of the future (in which Mr. Cheung appears) there is only *one* instance in the universe of the collective human "consciousness" (being the one that which appears on earth which advances along the afore mentioned space-time continuum -- in accordance with accepted Biblical theology); and (3) the fact that Mr. Cheung uses his considerable financial resources to become a demi-god himself and offers the chance of demi-godery to a select few individuals (Nobel laureates)... It is a provocative read for these reasons.
on May 30, 2011
I'd never heard of Robert J. Sawyer before last year's Dragon*Con, when I slunk in late to the nearest open session, which happened to be dedicated to him. Frankly, I was wary of people named "Sawyer" then, though I've rectified that situation since. It turns out he was a sci-fi author who had written (among quite a large number of other books) a story called Flashforward, which had been picked up and turned into a TV series that I vaguely remember my wife watching.
It turned out this guy was Canadian, very bright (obviously), funny but acerbic, an obvious nerd but kind of charming, and did a pretty good job of entertaining a room full of people for 90 minutes. He also turned up on a bunch of other sessions I attended that weekend, said a lot of really clever things, and said one thing that really just completely galled me and left me turning it over again and again in my head in the months after. So, I finally decided to track this guy's book down and give it a hard read.
First, the Bad: As soon as I started reading, I snickered. Hee hee hee. This guy is a hack. Clearly, then, it was fluke that he's a successful writer, and what he said that thrust in my side like Longinus' spear was a meaningless wisp of Canadian nerd bitterness. He writes like Dan Brown, but worse. I actually kind of like Dan Brown. Sawyer's characters are templates with attributes - they all feel like the same person with a different feature or experience to mull over. Even his main character - Lloyd Simcoe the Canadian Uberscientist - who alone gets a skoshe of individual development - is developed in a detached, uninteresting kind of way. He starts chapters with paragraphs describing rooms and people that never really matter, packing in detail that borders on obsessive, like he's rendering a 3D environment in case the readers go off the rails and try to peek around corners they weren't meant to. He describes and describes and it just feels like a catalog of details. Perhaps worse, there are quite a few passages (particularly discussions of guns, smoking, and the way women flock to some characters (Canadian scientist guy, I'm looking at you)) that felt more like wish fulfillment than story-telling - like he was trying to build a world in which things happened the way they "should" (for a value of should that matches his desires and not the way the world happens to actually work).
The Good: But after a couple of chapters of my self-congratuatory smuggary, the story grew on me. The idea could be really striking - the whole world loses consciousness for about 2 minutes (meaning that there were millions killed who were driving, standing on ladders, driving planes, performing trapeze acts, etc.) and saw 20 years into the future - if the author developed it enough to really explore how how an event like that would affect daily life for a variety of people. Sawyer does that excellently. For all of his cardboard people, he is remarkable in their breadth and variety. They may not be believable as narrators, but as acquaintances and friends - people whose thoughts and emotions we only see from the outside - they are uncannily realistic. He explores both sides of debates surrounding the Flashforwards - particularly whether or not the future is fixed or mutable - with a vigor that you'd expect from an actual argument by people who hold opposing view passionately. In this regard - in his ability to think well past the reader not just on one philosophical vector but several simultaneously - he rightfully deserves the title of modern sci-fi master. He may not have a soft hand with language or literary techniques, but he can take a foreign, impossible idea and develop it so completely in the reader's mind that when the story is done and it's time to put down the book, the reader is left a little stunned that it was all just imagination and none of it actually happened.
The Takeaway: Even before I finished the book I started watching Flashforward (the TV show) on Netflix, and it's pretty good, but entirely different characters. The central idea is close enough to develop the sundry themes Sawyer did (I believe he said he had a hand in that aspect of the show), but instead of a bunch of nuclear physicists as central characters, the TV show focuses on the American Prime Time trinity of Cops, Lawyers, and Doctors. It's worth a watch if you haven't seen it, at least through the half-dozen episodes I've watched so far. The book, though... Do you like sci-fi already? When you read Dan Brown, do you get hung up on the fact that he's no Tolstoy, or is your disbelief hoisted by its suspenders when you process the scope of the story for the first time? I can't recommend it promiscuously, but if you've gotten this far into this review and still think the book would be a good read, you're right.
One last thing: On the immensely minute chance that Robert Sawyer finds his way into reading this review - the TV show we can agree to call science fiction, but this book should be classified as fantasy. We have to hold the science in our science fiction to a certain standard of plausibility, don't we now? That, or you owe Charlie Stross an apology.
on May 2, 2010
After seeing the first episodes of the TV series I wanted to know more and thought I find it in the book. However the book has not much to do with the TV series, except the idea of the flashforward, but nevertheless the book is fun to read, especially if you are interested in physics.