Angie's Reviews > Triggers

Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer
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's review
Jun 01, 2013

really liked it
Read on March 29, 2012

Re-read June 2013 for SF discussion group.

Maybe 4 1/2. ALMOST awesome.

I wanted to say that, contrary to popular belief, Rob Sawyer is not a science fiction writer, but it's hard to say that about an author who has won both of the major American SF awards (Hugo and Nebula)plus the major awards of numerous other countries including Great Britain, Canada, and Japan among others. SF is distinguished by imaginative speculation about some aspect of science or technology, and sometimes that can be its biggest delight. Sawyer's books have that element,but mainly he writes books about people, and I have no hesitancy in recommending most of them to my friends who do not read SF and think they would not enjoy the genre. A typical Sawyer begins with some unusual event of science or technology and then entertainingly and insightfully explores how that event affects his protagonists and, quite often humanity as a whole. He calls it “philosofiction”.
As Triggers opens, terrorists blow up the White House and almost succeed in killing the President of the United States. At the same time, a doctor is trying to cure a young soldier’s PTSD with an experimental machine that works on the brain. The blast from the White House explosion triggers EMP that interferes with the machine and creates a daisy-chain effect in which twenty-one people who happen to be nearby acquire the memories of another person in addition to their own. The Secret Service works madly to stop the plotters before they do even more damage and to find the person who has acquired the President’s memories, including all the national secrets that are part of them. The people who have acquired a second mind, including Secret Service agents, a realtor, a young army veteran, a security guard, a pregnant Hispanic immigrant, a renowned surgeon, and an 87-year-old woman who was visiting her sick son, find their lives affected in ways they could never have imagined. It is great fun to watch the author explore the idea of “what could happen to a person with this kind of mind if he or she also had the mind of this kind of person?” My husband complained that there were too many characters in the book; I, on the other hand, enjoyed the multiplicity of personal stories and the variety of experiences. For example, the President of the US sees the memories of a young soldier who has had to serve in battle and watch civilian casualties; a black Secret Service agent has the memories of an older white woman whose racial attitudes disturb him immensely. Sawyer has a way with characters ,and I found myself more interested in their personal narratives than in the fate of humanity and the free world.
To give more plot details would ruin the surprises. However, Sawyer has a positive view of human nature and an optimistic outlook on the future of the human race. His vision may be unlikely, but we could do a lot worse.

NOTE: I'm always ambivalent when Rob Sawyer's books are serialized in Analog magazine, as Triggers was. On the one hand, I get to read one of my favorite authors's new books sooner than I normally would, but, on the other, stretching a good read over 4 months is cruel! If I have the willpower, I try to compensate by saving up the magazine until the last instalment is available.

(Review revised in response to my friend Andy's comment. IS this better, Andy?)

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06/01/2013 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Andy Love Hey! Since when does writing about people make a book not science fiction? Brother Francis of the Order of Saint Leibowitz, Papa Fuzzy, Miles Vorkosigan are people - people who are in science fiction novels...

Angie OK,Andy, of course Sawyer is an SF writer, and all the characters you metnioned are good ones. What I meant was that I think this book would be enjoyed by many people who do not read SF, because the technological or scientific speculation is not its biggest asset. Rather, it is the author's exploration of human beings and humanity. BTW I have a non-SF-reading friend who enjoyed Pappa Fuzzy for that very reason!

Andy Love Angie wrote: "OK,Andy, of course Sawyer is an SF writer, and all the characters you metnioned are good ones. What I meant was that I think this book would be enjoyed by many people who do not read SF, because t..."

Sorry for being cranky - I've been sensitized to comments like those found here and I overreacted.

Angie You weren't cranky,Andy.I think you made it possible to improve what I wrote.

Andy Love I'm glad to help. I like your new edit.

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