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Flashforward by Robert Sawyer

01/11/2009. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Flashforward in the USA - or Buy Flashforward in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 319 page paperback. Price: 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-09101-6.

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I should say from the start that if you're picking up Rob Sawyer's 'Flashforward' expecting to see something resembling the recent US TV series then you'll probably be in the wrong place as it features none of those characters. If you're out to see what caused people to have an advanced vision of the future, then this is the centre of the book and they do know or suspect what caused it. Whether the TV series is using the same basis depends a lot on how many series it is likely to run and I can't wait five or so years to keep that secret, especially with this book being re-issued and some of you might well have read it before anyway. So you've been suitably warned that anything I say about the CERN apparatus in Switzerland and France should not spoil your enjoyment of the TV series as nothing has been revealed there.

'Flashforward' was originally published in 1999 with much of the usual Sawyer research and dimensionalised characters that you should expect from all of his fiction. In this case we're at the CERN in 2009 where the Large Hadron Collider where its chief scientists Lloyd Simcoe and Theo Procopides set things in motion to find the Higgs bosun atomic particle. Instead, the entire population of the world have a flashforward twenty-one years into the future. For Simcoe, it's the discovery that his current amore, Michiko Komura, isn't going to be his wife. For Procopides, there is no future as he'll be murdered that day and he spends a lot of time trying to get information trying to prevent his own death. There are other events mixed into this and as much of this is spoiler zone, short of a flashforward, you should read the story. Sawyer cleverly keeps the story grounded looking at the consequences and what will make the future.

What I can discuss here is Sawyer's examination of causality. If you know what the future is, do you believe it to be embedded in stone or assume that it is possible to change events so it doesn't happen? Is what you are doing today going to contribute to these future events and what are you going to change to stop it happening won't? If not all events are going to happen as suspected, would you risk thinking the future is only one of many alternatives or just carry on and hope for the best? Heavy questions that will produce a diversity of answers.

Considering that seven billion people all saw a consistent future in Sawyer's novel and through the Internet are sharing this vision then it can work two ways. You can think you're going to have a good or bad life by its results. Twenty-one years is a long time, unlike the TV series which gives six months. For many, seeing twenty-one years ahead must have given some reassurance. To others, a finite death sentence, especially for those who would have no idea when they are going to die, let alone when.

This is a compelling novel and you can read it without worrying on whether it will infringe on your enjoyment of the TV series. For those who can flashforward, you'll be able to tell how close they are when the series ends. Fingers crossed that Sawyer hasn't had a flashforward to the LHC's first use. Now that would be prophetic.

GF Willmetts

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