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Robert J. Sawyer’s Flashforward

I’m torn between whether to review this book in light of Lost or in light of the upcoming premiere of FlashForward on ABC next week. So it’s looking like a straightforward review. Or maybe that’s a StraightForward review. (How could I resist?)

The plot of this novel is pretty basic: CERN (the European Center for Nuclear Research) has stopped researching things nuclear and developed a Large Hadron Collider. There’s been some public concern that flipping the switch on the Collider will result in the end of the world, but the scientists in Sawyer novels are fairly isolated from public opinion. The goal of the Collider is to create/detect/discover the Higgs boson, “the particle whose interactions endowed other particles with mass.” To do this, they crash particles into one another in an attempt to create a super-duper amount of energy. At least, that’s my understanding of it.

When heroes Lloyd Simcoe (Canadian), Michiko Komura (Japanese), and Theo Procopides (Greek) flip the switch, the world doesn’t end. But everyone in it does black out (BlackOut?) for two minutes and some odd seconds. It emerges that everyone’s consciousness shifted 20 years into the future, inhabiting the bodies that they will have then. Lloyd, for instance, is in bed with a white woman, despite being engaged to Michiko. Michiko is in Japan. And Theo—well, Theo doesn’t see anything at all.

The real question isn’t what happened (consciousness shift), but what it means. Is the future already completely determined? What does that mean for our present actions? How can Lloyd marry Michiko if he knows that he’ll be unfaithful or that they’ll get a divorce? Is it possible, in the cosmic sense, for Theo to prevent his own death—because what else could explain not seeing anything? (People who were asleep during the consciousness shift saw their dreams.)

Something that I find interesting, but that isn’t really addressed in the book, is the question of... well, I don’t really know how to put it. Bodily continuity? In other words, how does one’s consciousness know where to jump, and can it really recognize itself 20 years in the future? Why doesn’t it just jump into the ether, or the nearest living thing? It might be a silly question, like wondering if unicorns are boys or girls, but it still makes me wonder.

The plot does resolve itself, FlashingForward to 20 years in the future and resolving the questions of whether what will happen, happens. Foreknowledge can influence future events to some extent, but a paradoxical loop is almost a necessity (skip the end of this paragraph to avoid a minor spoiler): no one who FlashedForward saw themselves at work, and a universal holiday is declared for the time into which they FlashedForward in the future to prevent accidents and mayhem. That means that for their visions of 20 years future to come true, they had to have had the original FlashForward to know to take the day off…

Throughout the novel—and this was true of the only other Sawyer novel I’ve read, Calculating God, too—big moments seem underplayed. No one is too upset at CERN, no one goes crazy with the implications of knowing the future. A major life even in two characters’ lives is glossed over in a sentence as we FastForward to 20 years in the future. Maybe I’ve been reading too many potboilers lately, but, in places, this feels like a book on lithium.

That being said, it’s an interesting meditation on foreknowledge and its ramifications for personal action (notice that I’m avoiding the often-false dichotomy between ‘free will’ and ‘predestination’). The ending is downright trippy, and Lloyd’s choice isn’t the one that I would have made, as it seems quite boring. But it’s a good book—a quick read, and an interesting one.

Lost Notes:

• Props to Doc Jensen for noticing the weird coincidence of a man named Sawyer writing a novel called Flashforward. That’s why I first picked it up.

• The consciousness-jumping is obviously reminiscent of Desmond’s flashes.

FlashForward Notes:

• ABC has changed the name, hence all the CapitalizationJokes in this review.

• They’ve changed a key element, too: the jump isn’t 20 years into the future in the show. It’s six months. The producers have said that it won’t take the entire first season to get to the six-months-later point, either.

• Judging from the promos, Lloyd has morphed into a beautiful woman played by Sonya Walger (Penelope from Lost). Hooray!

• Dominic Monaghan! Double Hooray!

• We’re reviewing the premiere, of course.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. Very nice review, Josie. I read this book a couple of months ago -- at one sitting, while I was on jury duty -- and I agree that it's a fun, fast read. It's intriguing, although I found some of the resolution mildly dissatisfying. It'll be interesting to see what they do with a series.

    I picked up Flashforward in the first place because I heard about the upcoming series, and it led me to read more of Sawyer's books. He comes up with some fascinating plots and he's a talented writer who holds my interest, but as with Flashforward, I often ended up mildly dissatisfied. It's like Sawyer is great with a pitch, but then the ball tends to go wild. And his characters usually don't stay with me.

  2. You didn't mention that the novel was written in 1999 and takes place in 2009. Sawyer accurately predicted that the pope in 2009 would be named Benedict XVI.


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