FLASHFORWARD by Robert J. Sawyer

It’s possible that you’re one of the five or six people who have heard absolutely nothing about this book, or ABC’s TV adaptation, which was just added to their 2009-2010 Thursday night lineup. Or maybe you have heard of the show, yet in the glitz and glam of modern-day television, did not realize that  before TV, there was the book. In any case, you should waste more time online catching up on things like this.

Flashforward centers around a group of physicists working at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, who spend their days smashing subatomic particles together, in search of the elusive Higgs boson. Which, from my own studies in quantum physics is best described as a particle whichssmmmphmmmrmpph. Anyway, during one such experiment, every man, woman, and child on Earth blacks out, where for two and a half minutes, their collective consciousness is thrown twenty one years into the future.

When everyone wakes up, they’re forced to deal with the mass chaos that would understandably follow six billion people blacking out. Planes, cars, and buses have crashed. People undergoing surgery are dead. Others have fallen off of roofs and down stairs. As those who survive come to terms with what’s happened, they slowly begin to piece together what they’ve seen. Some saw visions of their lives twenty one years hence while others saw nothing. Were they sleeping? Were they dead? Slowly, a portrait of the future begins to emerge.

Robert J. Sawyer is one of a small group of authors who writes “hard” science fiction, or science fiction which puts a heavy emphasis on the science behind the fiction. That is to say, he is one of a small group who does it well. A few years back I read Hyperspace, by Michio Kaku. It’s a book about theoretical physics in terms a layman can understand. Most of what I remember is wondering what it would be like to travel back in time, to make sure my parents hooked up at the Enchantment Under the Sea Dance. My point is, if this crap is such a headache to understand, why do I want to spend more of my leisure time reading about it? Well, authors like Sawyer (also see Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds) are able to explain the science without overshadowing their stories or the characters in those stories.

While Flashforward lives safely within the limits of science fiction, there’s a lot of mystery, suspense, and philosophy here, too. Theo Procopides is one of the physicists who sees nothing during his blackout. After others tell him that they saw reports of his murder, Theo sets off on a quest to find out as much as he can about his future killer, and the circumstances surrounding his death. Will he succeed? Can he succeed? Is anyone capable of changing their future, or is free will just an illusion? In the book, arguments are laid out for both, and they’re questions you’ll be asking yourself throughout.

The book gets high marks for a truly original story, and low marks for a somewhat anti-climactic ending, although the scientific a-ha! moments really suck you in. If you’re planning on watching the show this Fall, you’ll definitely want to check this one out. From what I’ve seen, there are major differences between the two, so you won’t be ruining anything for yourself.

7 out of 10 stars

Buy the book from amazon.com.

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2 responses to “FLASHFORWARD by Robert J. Sawyer

  1. I am one of the 6 people who hadn’t heard of this! but it sounds intereting. Im guessign since im on the other side of the atlantic tho, im gonna have to wait for it.

  2. I am currently working on a book about CERN and the Higgs boson. Sawyer seems to have enveloped his science in an interesting package_ one that I hope I shall be able to compete with.
    My previous work is “Memoirs of a Hayseed Physicist”, currently available at Amazon. In it I try to mix in a lot of physics_maybe too much.
    Peter Martel

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