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There has been a lot of negativity surrounding Flashback, and most of it centers around Dan Simmons’ right wing politics. There’s so much negativity, in fact, that I hesitated before buying and went on to read a few more reviews. In the end I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but for the author who gave the world the Hyperion/ Endymion story-- among the finest works of science fiction in the last thirty years--I would forgive much. I decided to give it a try.
I am glad I did. Simmons is at his best when he finds his voice in a haunting tale of personal struggle amidst a larger struggle. The dialogue is often brisk, well-read, philosophical, and reflective. The setting is somewhat cyber punk in the sense of high technology and low people, but somehow more mournful and sad than what typically defines cyber punk.
There is no question that Simmons’ far right wing politics set the stage for the story, and critics who have alleged that he’s personally gone off the deep end may well be correct. My answer to this is “so what”? What does it say about us as readers if we are only able to read books that reinforce all of our political positions and lash out at those that push us-- even if they push us with new points of view. It is perhaps reflective of our partisan political era where each side writes books only for their followers, makes news channels only for the loyal, and each side makes sure the battle lines are all clear. This is an absurd standard to judge fiction by. I am not a prince of Denmark, I am not a boy with a run away slave, I am not a pirate, a space marine, or a horse deciding whether to vote for the full manager or the three day week but I have lived these tales. Books are about considering new perspectives and challenging ourselves, not weeding out anything that doesn’t reinforce our ever narrowing vision of the world.
Read Flashback because it is a great work of science fiction. Read it to be challenged, read it to see how the other side thinks, read it to see your own politics in action, read it to learn, but most of all read it because it is the work of a 65 year-old master of the craft who may have too few books left. Read it because it is fantastic.
22 of 24 people found this review helpful
At its core, Flashback is a straightforward detective story. Nic is a washed up former detective pressed back into service by a wealthy Japanese businessman to investigate his son's unsolved murder 6 years prior. Nic was the police detective originally working that unsolved case, but since, his wife was killed in an auto accident, Nic has become addicted to flashback, a drug that can allow the user to re-live past memories which he and the rest of the US population do so liberally. The story is set in the 2030's with considerable geopolitical tectonic shifts. China has imploded with internal strife; Europe's and Canada's declining birth rates have resulted in a gradually shift (due to immigration patterns) to Islamic fundamentalist sharia law, destruction of Israel, Mexico has been overrun by drug cartels, and the US has lost its premier global position with state secessions and supplying military mercenaries for other countries.
The detective story is well crafted and engaging with multiple twists. At the same time, the story unfolds with three different narrations: Nic, his elderly father-in-law, and his 16 year old son. These 3 generational perspectives enhance the belief suspension necessary to enter this dystopian future. While much of geopolitical evolutionary discussion is reasonable, the author can be slightly dinged for an overemphasis on current events that are more revealing with respect to the author's political views than necessary to drive the plot. The innovative chapter numbering also deserves special mention.
The narration is top notch and special kudos to the choice of 3 different narrators for each perspective; this effect positively added to the listening experience.
14 of 18 people found this review helpful