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Flashforward Paperback – September 1, 2009
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What would you do if you got a glimpse of your own personal future and it looked bleak? Try to change things, or accept that the future is unchangeable and make the best of it? In Flashforward, Nobel-hungry physicists conducting an unimaginably high-energy experiment accidentally induce a global consciousness shift. In an instant, everyone on Earth is "flashed forward" 21 years, experiencing several minutes of the future. But while everyone is, literally, out of their minds, their bodies drop unconscious; when the world reawakens, car wrecks, botched surgeries, falls, and other mishaps add up to massive death and destruction.
Slowly, as recovery efforts continue, people realize that during the Flashforward (as it comes to be called) they experienced a vision of the future. The range of visions is astounding--those who would be asleep in the future saw psychedelic dream landscapes, while others saw nothing at all (presumably they'd be dead). But those who saw everyday life 20 years hence have to come to grips with evidence of dreams forsaken (or realized). Soon, the physicists who caused the Flashforward are struggling to help the world decide whether the future is changeable--and whether the experiment is worth repeating. Robert J. Sawyer has captured a truly compelling idea with Flashforward, and he fully explores what such an event might mean to humanity. Fans will find this to be his best work to date, although the ending seems rushed after a detailed buildup. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Publishers Weekly
A science experiment that unwittingly shuts down all human consciousness for two minutes is the catalyst for a creative exploration of fate, free will and the nature of the universe in Sawyer's soul-searching new work (after Factoring Humanity). In April 2009, Lloyd and Theo, two scientists at the European Organization for Particle Physics (CERN), run an experiment that accidentally transports the world's consciousness 20 years into the future. When humanity reawakens a moment later, chaos rules. Vehicles whose drivers passed out plow into one another; people fall or maim themselves. But that's just the beginning. After the horror is sorted out, each character tries desperately to ensure or avoid his or her future. Trapped by his guilt for causing so much destruction and driven by a need to rationalize, Lloyd tries to prove that free will is a myth. Theo discovers that he will be murdered and begins to hunt down his killerAtempting fate as in the Greek dramas of his ancestors. Some people start on their appointed roads early, others give up on life because of what they've seen. Using a third-person omniscient narrator, Sawyer shifts seamlessly among the perspectives of his many characters, anchoring the story in small details. This first-rate, philosophical journey, a terrific example of idea-driven SF, should have wide appeal. (June) FYI: Sawyer is the president of the Science Fiction Writers of America.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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In the TV series, the flash forward is set 6 months in the future, whereas the novel it is set 21 ½ years in the future. This sets the tone for an entirely different set of problems, especially for those who didn't have a vision. Additionally, the main characters are different (outside of Lloyd Simcoe) and the story itself goes into a completely different direction between novel and the TV series.
Sawyer did an outstanding job of exploring the various theoretical physics models of the universe and its implications for the human condition in a way that was digestible for those of use without degrees in the hard sciences. The main character Lloyd was attempting to find the Higgs Boson particular with the LHC at CERN; however, he inadvertently caused the flash forward which caused the deaths of millions (car crashes, planes falling from the sky, etc). Naturally, Lloyd feels immense guilt. Meanwhile his partner, the young Theo had no vision at all, which he soon realizes means that he is dead in 21 ½ years. Theo wants to find how he died in order that he may prevent it. Theo and countless others hope that the future is not set, that time is not immutable. But Lloyd sees it differently. Given his own guilt, he hopes that time is immutable; he posits that we live in a block universe whereby time is analogous to layers of film stacked upon itself. Everything that happened has happened and that which is going to happen has already happened, just as the ending of a film has been finished whether or not you you've seen the ending. Casablanca will always end the same way, will always be the way it has always been no matter where you are in the film. I forget the particulars of the theory, but Lloyd calls this a "block universe." The important thing is that a block universe is completely deterministic, completely immutable. We cannot change anything.
Sawyer showcases some of the most intriguing concepts coming out of physics, most of which are in conflict, through the discourse and the drives of the characters. The story itself is engaging, rarely did I find myself skimming through, and Sawyer assumes the reader is capable of asking oneself some hard questions about what it is free will. I've always counted on Sawyer's ability to do this, as he is a remarkable and accomplished story teller with talent for creating original and cerebral concepts to explore the human condition in an entertaining way. That being said, Sawyer, this is a message for you. Please use that Thesaurus option in MS Word. You have penchant for the word "doubtless," don't you? At first I thought it was just a strange Canadian thing like watching hockey or being polite. But my Canadian friends never say "doubtless." And levitating cars in 2030? Really, Sawyer? Really? We're going to drive cars that levitate? Are they also going to fold up and fit into our wallets? I think you're spot on so many points that that little part about levitating cars (not flying, I grant you) threw me off. Other than those two little objections, I am a total fan of the novel. Sawyer has me thinking late at night about free will and whenever an author does that, I know it's a winner. Good going!