Michael Juge's Reviews > Flashforward

Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer
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's review
Aug 28, 2012

really liked it
Read in August, 2012

‘Doubtless’ a great read
4.5 out of 5 stars. Robert Sawyer sure knows how to explore that whole free will verses determinism thing in the most entertaining way. First, let’s get on with the comparison between the novel and the television series. I loved both, but they are completely different stories outside of the starting premise that an experiment involving a Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is instrumental in accidentally causing all humanity to black out for a couple of minutes to experience a vision of the future. Of course, the act of the entire human race suddenly losing consciousness makes for a bit of a mess as planes crash upon take off and landing, cars collide into each other, people tumble down flights of stairs, milk is over-frothed. And this is where the novel and the TV series diverge.
In the TV series, the flash forward is set 6 months in the future, whereas the novel it is set 21 ½ years in the future. This sets the tone for an entirely different set of problems, especially for those who didn’t have a vision. Additionally, the main characters are different (outside of Lloyd Simcoe) and the story itself goes into a completely different direction between novel and the TV series.
Sawyer did an outstanding job of exploring the various theoretical physics models of the universe and its implications for the human condition in a way that was digestible for those of use without degrees in the hard sciences. The main character Lloyd was attempting to find the Higgs Boson particular with the LHC at CERN; however, he inadvertently caused the flash forward which caused the deaths of millions (car crashes, planes falling from the sky, etc). Naturally, Lloyd feels immense guilt. Meanwhile his partner, the young Theo had no vision at all, which he soon realizes means that he is dead in 21 ½ years. Theo wants to find how he died in order that he may prevent it. Theo and countless others hope that the future is not set, that time is not immutable. But Lloyd sees it differently. Given his own guilt, he hopes that time is immutable; he posits that we live in a block universe whereby time is analogous to layers of film stacked upon itself. Everything that happened has happened and that which is going to happen has already happened, just as the ending of a film has been finished whether or not you you’ve seen the ending. Casablanca will always end the same way, will always be the way it has always been no matter where you are in the film. I forget the particulars of the theory, but Lloyd calls this a “block universe.” The important thing is that a block universe is completely deterministic, completely immutable. We cannot change anything.
Sawyer showcases some of the most intriguing concepts coming out of physics, most of which are in conflict, through the discourse and the drives of the characters. The story itself is engaging, rarely did I find myself skimming through, and Sawyer assumes the reader is capable of asking oneself some hard questions about what it is free will. I’ve always counted on Sawyer’s ability to do this, as he is a remarkable and accomplished story teller with talent for creating original and cerebral concepts to explore the human condition in an entertaining way. That being said, Sawyer, this is a message for you. Please use that Thesaurus option in MS Word. You have penchant for the word “doubtless,” don’t you? At first I thought it was just a strange Canadian thing like watching hockey or being polite. But my Canadian friends never say “doubtless.” And levitating cars in 2030? Really, Sawyer? Really? We’re going to drive cars that levitate? Are they also going to fold up and fit into our wallets? I think you’re spot on so many points that that little part about levitating cars (not flying, I grant you) threw me off. Other than those two little objections, I am a total fan of the novel. Sawyer has me thinking late at night about free will and whenever an author does that, I know it’s a winner. Good going!

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