So I finished the book FlashForward last night and a new episode of the TV series is airing tonight, so I figured it’s appropriate to make a critical review of the book. I am not one to write a review for the hell of it, I figure there needs to be a point. As Ben Croshaw once said, I need to be interested to do a review. Something that’s really good or really bad is easy to get worked up about. I’ll give you two guesses where FlashForward falls. I am also going to use a spoiler tag for the first time on this particular blog. Hope it works. But there are quite a few spoilers here so unless you don’t mind getting minor spoils from the beginning of the book I don’t suggest reading it. All other spoilers from late in the book are redacted with spoiler tags. Now, the review proper:
Time travel is like having a pet rattlesnake, yes it’s kinda cool and it seems like a good idea, but if you’re not careful there’s a good chance it could bite you in the ass.
FlashForward is a story that shows how crazy the world can get when everyone gets a two minute glimpse of twenty years in the future. First, since people are not in their own bodies they fall unconscious and the resulting chaos causes many deaths including that of Michiko’s daughter, Timiko. Michiko is one of the main characters of the book, so this death in particular makes the deaths that occur during the flashforward feel much more personal and have a much greater impact on the reader. This is one thing I feel is missing from the TV show, a friend or relative of one of the main characters dying to make it feel more traumatic would have been a good idea. I guess it wouldn’t have been very TV friendly, but I digress. These deaths play a major role in the story, and rightly so. Everyone is worried it will happen again. That is until Lloyd and his team come forward and say it was their fault and they will not let it happen again.
The second major consequence is the flashes themselves. Some have no vision and therefore figure they are dead, others see themselves watching the news, reading the paper (which still exists in 2030…HO YEAH!), talking with people over major plot points or even having sex, possibly with someone they didn’t know…yet. Take any one moment in your life, odds are someone would have had a flashforward of a similar event. Shaving, writing, commuting, working, eating, sleeping, or even masturbating…hey, anythings possible. Some see their visions as a blessing, others see it as a curse, depending on whether they liked what they saw.
Which brings me to the characters themselves. Theo’s vision was there wasn’t one. He is dead in 20 years, specifically murdered. So of course he tries to avert it by finding out who will do it. This is a logical reaction and something anyone would do. His sole source of information regarding this is the flashes of others, so this inspires the creation of the Mosaic Project, a website devoted to indexing 7 billion visions of the future, named after the world’s first web browser and the idea that everyone’s flashforwards created a “mosaic” of the future.
Next is Lloyd Simcoe, the primary protagonist, and unlike Theo, his partner, and Michiko, his fiancée, Lloyd is a completely unlikeable character. After his team comes out of the proverbial closet and admit their culpability in the flashforward Lloyd is asked about the event by Bernard Shaw, I like how they used a real person, and Lloyd says the future is immutable, the timeline is fixed. Which makes sense except for one thing, he doesn’t actually know that. Every time he said that it made me want to reach into the page and bitch slap him for being so fucking stupid. Science is about proof, and this man is, supposedly, a scientist, and a good one at that. So how could he do such great injustice to science by jumping to such conclusions? The truth is we don’t know how time works, we have theories, but no evidence. It’s virtually impossible to verify any models of temporal mechanics unless you build a time machine, which they don’t in this book, and run some controlled tests on time. But Lloyd says it with such certainty and arrogance. When someone who had a vision, which we know about because they told a friend about it, dies, Lloyd brushes it off by saying the man lied about having a vision, and this certainty comes to a head when his fiancée calls him out and asks if he wants to call off the wedding on account of his vision which has him in bed with another woman, one he never met. His belief that the future is immutable causes him to wonder if, since he knows his marriage won’t last forever, it should never start. I simply can’t find a way to like Lloyd Simcoe, and I am glad the creators of the TV show made the character just as unlikable, good job.
FlashForward is pretty heavy on the science so those who don’t like science probably shouldn’t read this book, however that goes without saying since it’s a sci-fi. But what boggles my mind is how the science is approached. In the early moments of the story it’s revealed that not only did the people black out but so did all recording equipment, cameras, voice recorders, seismographs, barometers, everything that recorded something stopped working. How could this be? The explanation in the books is thus: because no one is around to observe the world the world was a quantum mess. Nothing happened on earth during the flashforward while our minds were goofing off 20 years in the future. When we returned the waveform collapsed into the most likely scenario, two minutes later with many dead. Think Schrödinger’s cat. According to quantum mechanics, the act of observation affects particles, however there are three problems with that. One, it happens at the quantum level and we shouldn’t be able to see it. Two, there is an observer, the cameras themselves and the corresponding footage which we will watch later. Three, it’s a whole bunch of bullshit.
A scientist smarter than me might correct me on this but I always thought the whole Schrödinger’s cat, Heisenberg uncertainty principle thing was due to, not the act of observing, but the act of measuring. The typical scenario involves simple light, if one tries to measure the exact position of…let’s say an electron, by shooting it with light and seeing what reflects off the electron and using that to determine it’s position, the light itself will alter the course of the electron, it’s just that sensitive. You could use lower frequency light, less powerful and less likely to affect the electron, however this will also mean the individual photons will be larger and your measurements would be less accurate. The act of measuring is what affects the electron, not your eye seeing the results. So basically I’m saying it makes no sense. If it did than whenever we sent a probe to Mars there would be no transmissions coming from it because we aren’t there to observe it.
Overall the story is well structured, and well told. There is one cringe worthy moment when one of the characters visits Toronto, the author’s hometown. It’s near the beginning of chapter 23 if you’re curious. It says Toronto’s public transit system is called the TTC for Toronto Transit Commission, there was a grocery store called Loblaws which specialized in a line of products called President’s Choice, and the bridge over the Don Valley Parkway (it’s a highway) that contains a subway was designed for such decades before the Toronto subways existed, it’s unusual for a city to plan that far in advance. This entire section is irrelevant, and feels out of place. The characters also visit New York and Vancouver and nothing like that happens. Of course because the author lived there he wanted to talk about his hometown. He shouldn’t have.
But two chapters very near the end really got my knickers in a twist. When the second flashforward flashed to several points in the future, going forward billions of years. Explaining humanity will never go too far away from their brethren because if we do we die or something and we are the only intelligent race in the universe, then the universe ends and we all die, en masse. Apparently conscientiousness, which all humans have, can only operate within a fixed radius. It’s a concept that I have trouble making sense of. It’s explained by saying we all have to agree on what now is and that breaks down if we get too far…why? I guess it’s not well explained in the book, but what is less explained is why the second flashforward is so different from the first, instead of one moment revealed to the entire human race, like the first one, the second flashforward shows many moments from many points in time between now and the year one trillion. It makes very little sense. But then again the whole things made up so I guess we can just ignore it. All I ask for is a little consistency. Then we are told about someone developing immortality, but I can overlook that, it only pisses me off because it’s closely related to the trillion year flashforward.
Overall it is a good book but do yourselves a favour and imagine Theo as the main character and skip chapters 31 and 32 and go right to chapter 33, the last one. All that aside, I highly recommend it as a good light read for the science junkies out there.