Review: Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer

Title: Triggers

Author: Robert J. Sawyer


Publisher: Ace

Format: Hardcover

In near-future America, a string of terrorist attacks has changed its citizens’ viewpoint on the world. President Seth Jerrison is addressing the public in front of the Washington monument when a sniper shoots him in the back. He is rushed to a nearby hospital where doctors attempt to save his life.

While the president is in the operating room, a security agent discovers a bomb on the White House roof. The bomb explodes and the hospital where Jerrison is staying experiences a power surge and temporary power loss. This handicaps the doctors’ efforts to save his life, but there is a larger issue at hand. In a nearby room, Doctor Ranjip Singh is using an experimental piece of equipment to treat a soldier for PTSD. The surge has a strange effect on the machine and when power is restored, any person that was within a few rooms of the machine now has the strange ability to read the memories of another person. This ability is not reciprocal; a doctor who can read the memory of a nurse has his memory being read by a real estate agent. The real estate agent in turn has her mind being read by someone completely different.

Also included in the group of memory readers is Susan Dawson, a 34-year-old woman heading security detail, a father and his estranged daughter awaiting a kidney transplant, another secret service agent, an older woman visiting her son, a lawyer, and a few other characters who have their own unique stories. One of these people has access to the president’s mind and what he or she learns could have an effect on the course of human history.

I read that this novel was serialized in Analog magazine; however, I would have never known it. It reads like a complete novel. Sawyer does a nice job of handling the multiple viewpoints required to tell this kind of story and I found myself enjoying the many side stories that took place. This novel is about the plot more than anything, but his characters are still rounded out and believable.

Triggers is classified as science fiction, but the speculative elements are restricted to this strange occurrence and it reads more like a political thriller. The pace is comfortable as we see how each character comes to grips with not only their unique ability, but also their sudden loss of privacy. Through this experience, we see love interests develop and dark family secrets come to a head. Most of all, we see the struggle to maintain national security when confidential information is available like an open book to unknown people.

As I read through the book, I thought I would be giving a 5-star review. Without spoiling the ending, I have to admit the last fifty pages completely derailed for me. What could have been a nicely-tied up conclusion to the novel ended up as an anti-Randian philosophical discourse that left me very disappointed. These philosophical musings are also sprinkled throughout the novel, but they are not obtrusive until the end. It’s not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with Sawyer’s philosophy — it’s that the plot shifted away from what I thought was believable for the characters and even the nature of the strange phenomenon itself.

Overall, Sawyer is a very talented writer and he crafts a solid story in Triggers. Despite the flawed ending, I found the premise to be intriguing and the characters likable, holding my interest on every page. For those who are looking for a mind-bending thriller, Triggers is a fun and thought-provoking read.