Review: Flashback by Dan Simmons

Title: Flashback

Author: Dan Simmons


Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books

Format: Hardcover

I usually try and refrain from talking politics on this blog. I have not amassed a large readership that I fear of alienating, nor am I selling any kind of product that I fear will suffer from making political statements. Essentially, I just don’t have the desire to turn this blog into a political mouthpiece. But after reading the novel, Flashback, I fear it is impossible to avoid the subject.

At first glance, Flashback appears to be a typical dystopian novel. I thought it at first seemed inspired by a hallucinatory narcotic novel by Philip K Dick or perhaps paying (self-acknowledged) debt to Robert J. Sawyer’s Flash Forward. Perhaps there is some inspiration from past writers, but the novel serves an entirely different purpose.

Set twenty-something years in the future, a struggling society finds solace in a drug called flashback. The drug allows a person to vividly relive past experiences. Ultimately, the drug brings out the worst in people and women are raped to lock in a memory that can be recalled hundreds of times over.

The protagonist, Nick Bottom, is a detective who falls into the allure of flashback after his wife is killed. His life and career fall into shambles, he becomes alienated from his son, and he spends all of his remaining resources on reliving time with his wife. There appears to be no end in sight to Nick’s destruction until an allucrative businessman from Japan hires him to solve a murder of who killed his son.

Nick, who is out of money (and thus, out of flashback), takes the case and soon finds himself wound up in a huge conspiracty. His path intertwines with ihis son, who remorsefully is connected with a gang of teenagers who are bent on murder and rape to gain memories to relive. Nick must overcome his drug addiction to save his son from an untimely death and ultimately save himself.

I will mention that I love the idea for the plot. I also love Dan Simmons writing and I thought his Hyperion Cantos was absolutely brilliant. He really is my kind of writer — out of the box science fiction with a literary flair. And while I enjoyed reading this novel as well, I just couldn’t get over the obtuseness of the politics involved.

The dystopia that Simmons pictures has the Islamic Caliphate ruling all of Europe. Several states of the US have seceded and most of those remaining do not pay taxes. And it’s all Obama’s fault. Simmons refers to Obama’s foreign policy as being one of “appeasement” that began with a speech given in Egypt and perpetuated into global destruction. This theme runs throughout the course of the novel, wearing the reader down with what really is a hyperbolic extension of liberal politics.

In many ways, I align myself with conservative/libertarian school of politics, but I found Simmons vision to be an untruthful exaggeration. Yes, this is fiction, but real examples are given of what brings about America and Europe’s collapse. It seems that perhaps Simmons himself was on flashback, reliving Bush-era military adventurism while writing this novel.

Politics aside, the novel is interesting and Simmons does an excellent job of tying the characters together. In traditional Simmons style, there are references to Shakespeare and other literary figures, giving the novel its unique fingerprint. The characters and plot never rose to the grand scale of Hyperion and I felt at times that Simmons’ dialog seemed a bit artificial in trying to pull off the grittiness of the future. Nick Bottom, while somewhat a loser, is still a character we can feel empathy toward as he attempts to make up for lost time.

I did enjoy reading the novel and for those who can look past the politics, it is a joy to read. If you are new to Simmons, there are better choices of novels, but Flashback still delivers an entertaining read.

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  1. Review: Feed by Mira Grant « Odd Engine

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