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Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer

Flashforward (1999)

by Robert J. Sawyer

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    Sphere by Michael Crichton (SFdolon)
    SFdolon: Best Michael Crichton book, a sorry about the repercussions of an unexpected scientific discovery.

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An experiment at CERN designed to detect the Higgs Boson instead has the unanticipated effect of causing everyone on Earth to black out and experience one minute and forty-three seconds' worth of their lives twenty-one years in the future.

If this premise sounds almost familiar, you may be remembering the short-lived TV series of the same name, which was based on this novel. I did watch that when it was on, but eventually found myself growing frustrated with it. It felt to me like it was trying way too hard to be the new Lost and not doing a terribly good job of it. So I finally gave up on it, a couple of episodes before the network did. But I still thought the concept was intriguing, so I figured I'd pick up the book and see if what the original did with it was any better.

As it happens, the novel bears very little resemblance to the TV show, except for the basic idea of the blackout and future vision, and some cases of what people see in that future being broadly similar. (E.g. one man discovering that he's been murdered in the future, and another learning that he's no longer with the woman he thought he'd love forever.)

But the premise is still fascinating, even on encountering it for the second time, and it opens up a lot of interesting discussion about the physics and philosophy of time. Is the future fixed, something that already exists out there somewhere, or is it malleable? Is there such a thing as free will? And if you could see the future, what would that do to your present? There's some nifty, thought-provoking stuff here. Unfortunately, I think it goes off the rails a bit by the end, getting into some rather nutty, or at the very least scientifically and philosophically dubious territory. Which maybe shouldn't be too surprising; this is the kind of story where it seems hard to imagine an ending that would be entirely satisfying.

That's not the only thing that I found not quite satisfying, though. Sawyer does a really good job of setting up personal situations that make this time-jump idea and its human consequences feel very grounded and relatable, and that's good. But his characters are a little too flat to make it all quite as effective as it might have been. Most of the time, it feels more like we're being told how the characters feel, rather than shown their emotions and made to feel along with them. Also, this was written in 1999 and set (mostly) in 2009, and the fact that Sawyer inevitably failed to correctly predict the world ten years in his future means it takes a little too much effort to suspend my disbelief in the world he predicts twenty years beyond that.

Still, it's a quick, interesting read, and may well be worth a look if you find time travel stories appealing and would like to see a somewhat different-than-usual take on the idea. ( )
4 vote bragan | Jan 15, 2014 |
If you’re a science nerd and the thought of working at, or even just touring CERN, this is the book for you! I loved all the particle physics parts.

It is far far different from the TV series, by the way.

CERN attempts an experiment to produce the Higgs boson. Suddenly every person on earth loses complete consciousness and many have visions of a few minutes in the future, in the year 2030 to be precise.

Was it the experiment? If so, why? How? Could they reproduce the phenomenon? Should they? How else to discover what was the cause?

Nerdy scientists arise! ( )
  majkia | Jun 27, 2013 |
I thought maybe reading this would tell me enough of the story so I wouldn't want to watch the television show, but ABC took only Robert J. Sawyer's concept, not the characters or their development.

This had plenty of Mary Sue-ism and some of That SF Tone but not overwhelmingly so. It got one basic fact wrong early on that, it being science fiction, I didn't attempt to overlook: Geneva is six hours, not five, ahead of Atlanta. And it had plenty of "whom" misused as a subject pronoun.
  ljhliesl | May 21, 2013 |
How would you change your life if you knew what awaited you twenty years in the future? Would you try to change your fate? Would it even be possible?

Flashforward explores the answers to these questions through a cast of characters whose consciousness is temporarily and accidentally displaced into their future selves for a few short minutes.

This book presents a lot of food for thought about the permanence of our future, and the question of free will. The main question being: Is our future set in stone, or do we have the free will to change its outcome? Different theories are tossed around by the scientists, but no one really will know for certain any of the answers until they have lived through those twenty years.

One of my favorite storylines involves a man who knows that he is going to be murdered just before the date in the future that everyone flashes forward. He searches for information about the murderer, but also questions if the actions that he takes while he is searching might actually be the cause of his murder.

Anyone who has watched a lot of Star Trek is familiar with this debate (it seems to show up in a lot of episodes). If a person takes an action will it cause the problem in the future? Or will their inaction be the cause of the problem? Is there any way to possibly change the future?

Around the middle of the book the plot gets a little bogged down with scientific arguments supporting the different theories of fate vs. free will, but it didn't make the book any less enjoyable for me. I think you could easily skim this small section and still get what's going on with the story if you are not into reading all of the nitty-gritty scientific debate.

I thought that the ending was a little bit unrealistic and out there, but was still a fun twist to the story.

If you like science fiction, stories about time travel, or discussions about free will vs. fate, you should enjoy reading Flashforward. ( )
  akreese | May 16, 2013 |
More like 3.5 stars. This was a quick and engaging read, and I loved the premise. However, the writing itself wasn't that great, and I thought that the conclusion was a bit lackluster. Even so, I enjoyed the ride and am looking forward to the television series this fall. ( )
  cait815 | Apr 1, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 68 (next | show all)
Although uneven, the book was a more rewarding experience for me than the television series. If you enjoyed FlashForward on television, you should probably read the book as it delves far more deeply into many of the issues raised by its core concept.
added by sdobie | editSF Site, Kit O'Connell (Feb 1, 2010)
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"He who foresees calamities suffers them twice over." --Beilby Porteus

""Free will is an illusion. It is synonymous with incomplete perception." --Walter Kubilius

"Lost time is never found again." --John H. Aughey
For Richard M. Gotlib

Richard and I first met in high school in 1975. Back then, we each envisioned very different futures for ourselves. But one thing seemed absolutely clear: no matter how many years would pass, we'd always be friends. It's now a quarter-century later, and I'm delighted that at least that part turned out exactly as planned.
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The control building for CERN's Large Hadron Collider was new: it had been authorized in A.D. 2004 and completed in 2006.
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Book description
Suddenly everyone in the world loses consciousness for two minutes. Planes fall from the sky, there are millions of car crashes, millions die. And when everyone comes round they have had a glimpse of their life in the future. When it awakes the world must live with the knowledge of what is to come. Some saw themselves in new relationships, some saw exciting new technologies, some saw the stuff of nightmares. Some, young and old alike, saw nothing at all . A desperate search to find out what has happened begins. Does the mosaic of visions offer a clue? What did you see?
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812580346, Mass Market Paperback)

What would you do if you got a glimpse of your own personal future and it looked bleak? Try to change things, or accept that the future is unchangeable and make the best of it? In Flashforward, Nobel-hungry physicists conducting an unimaginably high-energy experiment accidentally induce a global consciousness shift. In an instant, everyone on Earth is "flashed forward" 21 years, experiencing several minutes of the future. But while everyone is, literally, out of their minds, their bodies drop unconscious; when the world reawakens, car wrecks, botched surgeries, falls, and other mishaps add up to massive death and destruction.

Slowly, as recovery efforts continue, people realize that during the Flashforward (as it comes to be called) they experienced a vision of the future. The range of visions is astounding--those who would be asleep in the future saw psychedelic dream landscapes, while others saw nothing at all (presumably they'd be dead). But those who saw everyday life 20 years hence have to come to grips with evidence of dreams forsaken (or realized). Soon, the physicists who caused the Flashforward are struggling to help the world decide whether the future is changeable--and whether the experiment is worth repeating. Robert J. Sawyer has captured a truly compelling idea with Flashforward, and he fully explores what such an event might mean to humanity. Fans will find this to be his best work to date, although the ending seems rushed after a detailed buildup. --Therese Littleton

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:25 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

A science experiment goes wrong, giving everyone a glimpse of the future. One man learns a rival will steal his wife, another that he will win a lottery, a third that he will be murdered and has 20 years to find the killer. A look at the repercussions of knowing the future.… (more)

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