On the eve of a secret military operation, an assassin's bullet strikes President Seth Jerrison. He is rushed to the hospital, where surgeons struggle to save his life. At the same hospital, researcher Dr. Ranjip Singh is experimenting with a device that can erase traumatic memories. Then a terrorist bomb detonates. In the operating room, the president suffers cardiac arrest. He has a near-death experience - but the memories that flash through Jerrison's mind are not his memories. It quickly becomes clear that the electromagnetic pulse generated by the bomb amplified and scrambled Dr. Singh's equipment, allowing a random group of people to access one another's minds. And now one of those people has access to the president's memories - including classified information regarding the upcoming military mission, which, if revealed, could cost countless lives. But the task of determining who has switched memories with whom is a daunting one - particularly when some of the people involved have reason to lie.... BONUS AUDIO: Includes an exclusive introduction by author Robert J. Sawyer.
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Woah, Trigger! A weak, simple tale (FULL SPOILERS)
This is an intellectually weak, self-indulgent book.
In his boyish Audible introduction, Sawyer tells us this is his first venture into the thriller since TV poured money into his garage for "Flash Forward".I
He treats the thriller reader with disdain, twisting and turning the workings of the United States government. We expect character compression--a single FBI agent, not three or four, but we do not expect a single Secret Service Agent to stand in for almost the entire Justice Department and Homeland Security. After the destruction of Independence Hall, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sears Tower, the President and the Secretary of Defense decide to (and this is the MacGuffin) murder 107 million Pakistanis to defeat Islamo-Fascism*, and the Congress and military leaders are never mentioned. The head of the Secret Service and two of his minions convert to Islam for money and Heaven and conspire to assassinate the President, presumably finally swayed through Imam Voldemort's Imperio curse.
Sawyer ignores democratic safeguards to make his point: we could achieve peace if we just understood each other. While I do not expect a wonkish recapitulation of "The West Wing", I do expect, given his needless diversion to LA to give a cameo to an actor friend on the set of his fictional White House drama "Inside the Beltway", some recognition that we do not make decisions in a vacuum. (Many Presidential Libraries have an Oval Office; all are closer than LA.)
But for this book to tell its simplistic tale, Sawyer needs the contrast of every-man-is-an-island to the tapioca utopia of his group mind. He cannot show successful cooperative systems or else risk undercutting a variant on The Shared Moment from Dan Simmon's Hyperion Cantos. And if you do not know those works, you should. They are the books you should give those who hate science fiction. Simmon's books lightly twine Keats, Chaucer and Mark Twain in one of the greatest science fiction epics. Stop. Find Dan Simmons now.
But back to this thing.
Sawyer simplifies interactions and erases milennia of social contract--even in its admitedly flawed American model--to make his slushy ill-thought naive conclusion: if we knew each other as we know ourselves, everything would be fine.
Sawyer wants us to surrender ourselves to a group mind and the tyranny of the majority. He ends in the Galapagos and quotes Darwin but ignores the implications of redundancy, of evil, of madness, of faith, hoping that a compassionate Intelligent Evolution will mitigate the brutality of natural selection.
Sawyer is a Canadian, and in a slurry of factoids chooses to tell us that the man who created Superman is Canadian but not that among the treasures lost in the White House immolation is Teddy Roosevelt's Nobel Peace Prize or the desk where Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation. America is a flawed and riven country, dating to the Articles of Confedration, always trying to be better, but Sawyer ignores this. Americans must be monochromatic for this story to work. There is not a single difficult decision in this book, and that makes it anti-American.
Nor is the book well-written. We open with a presidential speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial rallying the American people after attacks across the country. It is a bold move, and demands crisp rhetoric, but it fails in mushy simple phrases that echo a high school commencement speech. He evokes Gettysburg but Sawyer's cadences stumble, and the metaphors are weak.
I first heard Jeff Woodman in "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close". He does well here, particularly in the role of a Sikh doctor. It is a voice that could easily slide into parody. Other voices echo Sarah Palin, a female Forest Gump and the Kennedy quaver. Here he is equal to the material.
* The Secretary of Defense convinces the President to murder millions by using the bizarre analogy that the United States used the atomic bombs to retaliate for a few thousand dead at Pearl Harbor. No. Dropping the Bomb was a complex and much debated decision and even now is a Rorschach test in American policy. But making it a complex nuanced decision erodes Sawyer's argument for the shared mind utopia.