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Robert J. Sawyer
Tor Books, 320 pages

Robert J. Sawyer
The winner of the Nebula Award in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment, Robert J. Sawyer has also won three Aurora Awards, Canada's award for excellence in science fiction. His novel Starplex was a finalist for both the Hugo and the Nebula. In addition, he earned the Arthur Ellis Award from the Crime Writers of Canada.

Robert J. Sawyer Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Frameshift
SF Site Review: Calculating God
SF Site Review: Factoring Humanity
SF Site Review: Illegal Alien
SF Site Review: Frameshift
Steven H Silver's Review of Starplex
Steven H Silver's Review of The Terminal Experiment

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Donna McMahon

It is April 21, 2009. Physicists at the CERN particle collider facility in Geneva throw the switch on an experiment which they hope will detect the elusive Higgs boson particle. Instead, the scientists "Flashforward" -- experiencing visions of their lives twenty years in the future -- then return to discover that they've been unconscious for two minutes.

What they don't immediately realize is that the effect was planet-wide, creating an unprecedented disaster when everyone passed out. Car wrecks strew the highways, planes have crashed, patients bled to death on operating tables, and factory workers suffered horrific accidents. As the carnage is cleaned up, the inevitable hunt for scapegoats occurs, but a larger question looms: has mankind glimpsed the true, immutable future, or only one possible future?

This is the dramatic opening of an ambitious novel by Robert J. Sawyer, which spans twenty-one years and explores the theoretical fringes of physics. Most readers will undoubtedly finish the book, drawn on by an intriguing problem, good pacing, and adequate, if uninspired, characterization. However, many readers will find this a hard book to like.

Sawyer clearly did his research for Flashforward -- lots and lots and lots of it. Tellingly, the novel opens with four long paragraphs describing the Large Hadron Collider, before we meet any of the characters. And the rest of the novel is littered with similar bursts of data. In the middle of a terrifying dash through the body-strewn, burning streets of Geneva, Sawyer regales us with all the street names and major landmarks, such as "the seven-hundred-year-old Maison Tavel, Geneva's oldest private home." Well, yes, I'm sure that's what I'd be concentrating on as I rushed through a disaster scene to find my fiance's 8-year-old daughter.

Which brings me to another weakness in this book -- a cast of characters who are plausible, but impossible to warm to. Lloyd Simcoe, a pompous, emotionally constipated middle-aged physicist, negotiates two decades of personal and professional crises without any hint of passion, while his colleague Theo Procopides, an arrogant whiz-kid physicist, amply demonstrates why someone will murder him.

At first I found myself wondering whether the emotional anesthesia of everyone in this book was deliberate, but I eventually decided that it was just poor writing. For example, Theo's quest to prevent his future murder is a plot element which Sawyer relies on to pull readers through the second half of the novel, but it fails to generate much tension since Theo is such an unsympathetic git. And although Sawyer comes up with some very interesting flash-forwards which would certainly create personal dilemmas for his characters, he fails to successfully exploit most of those dilemmas.

My biggest problem with this novel was its jarring juxtaposition of clever, plausible ideas with the lame or utterly ridiculous (we're supposed to believe that an international research facility with 3000 employees has no emergency evacuation procedures and no fire wardens?!). One moment Sawyer is successfully setting the scene with telling details; the next minute he's demolishing our suspension of disbelief with some ghastly bit, like Lloyd's stupid speech to the UN.

Sawyer set himself a very tough challenge by opening his book with a planetary disaster, and he is unable to maintain that dramatic momentum. The conclusion of Flashforward -- which comes out of left field and has nothing to do with the main plot -- is both anti-climactic and silly.

Copyright © 2002 Donna McMahon

Donna McMahon discovered science fiction in high school and fandom in 1977, and never recovered. Dance of Knives, her first novel, was published by Tor in May, 2001, and her book reviews won an Aurora Award the same month. She likes to review books first as a reader (Was this a Good Read? Did I get my money's worth?) and second as a writer (What makes this book succeed/fail as a genre novel?). You can visit her website at

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