Posted by: kshayes513 | March 25, 2009

Reading: Robert J Sawyer

Robert J Sawyer, Flashforward


One reason I like my work as a journalist is it often makes me aware of writers or movies or TV series that I might otherwise overlook. Someone asks if I want to write about this author or that new TV show, and even if I’ve never watched or read the title in question, I always say, “Sure!” (Saying yes to any topic is generally a good rule for a freelance writer, unless the proposed topic triggers a strong visceral urge to throw up).

Not long ago, my pals and tireless promoters Bob Eggleton and Marianne Plumridge suggested that their friend, award winning SF novelist Robert J Sawyer might be a good interview prospect, as his novel Flashforward is being made into a TV series. Good idea. I pitched the interview to Patrick Lee at Sci Fi Wire, and a few days later, was scheduled to interview Rob and was sitting down to read Flashforward.

Flashforward is set mostly in and around the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, a fact which made Rob, writing in 1999, set the book 10 years in the future, to a time when the LHC, then under construction, would be newly in operation as the largest particle collider in the world. This also makes it oddly nostalgic, as it was written pre 9/11, and the world he extrapolated ten years ago seems in some ways as safe and as distant as memories of a happy childhood.

Like any good SF story, Flashforward takes a scientific “what-if” and turns it into a human centered story: What if the collision of subatomic particles caused every person on the planet to see a vision of themselves 20 years in the future? For me, one of the marks of a good SF writer is that he or she can produce solid and accurate science and technology, without making my  brain overload. I had no trouble reading the physics passages in Flashforward; and I even understood many of them, which says a lot for Rob’s ability to simplify abstract science.

More important, he doesn’t spend a lot of time on the science. The story is about the scientists as individuals, and what they see about their own lives in the future. What would happen to you if you saw exactly what you’d be doing twenty years from now? Especially if it wasn’t the way you wanted your life to go? That’s the problem faced by the characters in Flashforward. I decided to sample the book at bedtime, thinking it would be easy to read just a chapter or 2, since I’d already read the first chapter on Rob’s web site. Mistake. I read 150 pages before I realized I’d stayed up way past my bedtime! The book goes fast, it’s not terribly long (I have a prejudice against books the size of cinderblocks), and it works out the physics and the drama in several surprising and satisfying ways. Rob says he doesn’t plan to write a sequel, but I think there’s potential for one in that ending.

Flashforward is only one of many novels Rob has written; many of them have won awards. His Neanderthal series and the upcoming WWW series, Wake, Watch, Wonder, about the development of AI, look especially interesting, so I now have another author to look for, when I’ve got the itch to read something new.

And if you’re interested in the Flash Forward TV series, you can find my interview with Rob in 2 parts on Sci Fi Wire: Part 1 and Part 2. And you can read a lot more on Rob’s blog under the label “Flashforward”

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