October 3, 2009

Rabid Reads: "Flash Forward" by Robert J. Sawyer

Title: Flash Forward
Author: Robert J. Sawyer
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. (1999)
Genre: Science-Fiction
Pages: 319
ISBN 0-312-86712-3

Seeing advertisements through the summer for the new ABC series, Flash Forward, I don't recall a single mention of it being at all based on a novel or a single mention of Robert J. Sawyer. It wasn't until I spotted a stack of paperbacks in a supermarket for this novel that I realized there was a connection. Then, during a visit to my local library I managed to snag a copy and resolved to read it before watching the pilot episode of the new TV show.

Well, over the course of the weekend after the series debut, I read the book--the debut episode sat patiently on a VHS tape waiting to be watched. The advertisements for the show built a preconception of the subject matter and the style of storytelling, which I why I tend nowadays to read the book before seeing the movie or show. The show looked highly mysterious, conspiratorial, and peppered with a healthy dose of action. There's good reason why it's being teased as the ABC replacement for Lost.

The book, however, after having read it and then watching the pilot, is a horse a different color. Oh, it's mysterious, there's no denying that. But, the action and the conspiracy is downplayed a lot in favor of introspective character pieces and pseudo-philosophical arguments. If you've been watching the show, but haven't taken the time to read the book yet, I'm a bit conflicted on what to suggest--you'll either want to read it and realize there is a different tone and point-of-view from the show, or you'll want to hold off until the season finale, because I'm pretty sure the book is a huge spoiler to part of the mystery going on inside the show.

In the show, everyone on the planet who is awake passes out for a little less than two minute, during said time nearly everyone experiences a "flash forward" vision of their life approximately six months in the future. In the book, the same thing occurs, but the time jump is far greater (over twenty-one years).

In the show, the story is told through a collection of characters ranging from a couple of FBI agents, a doctor, a blue-collar stiff, and a teenaged girl. In the book--and this may be a huge spoiler--the story is told through a small number of scientists responsible for a particle collider experiment that causes the global incident. It's this major detail of the novel that makes me wonder if I'm simply watching the show from a layman's point of view, someone on the outside looking in, so to speak.

The story is great in that it raises those out-there questions of free will versus destiny. If you know what is going to happen at some point in the future--one character in both the show and in the book does not experience a flash forward, and later learns he'll be murdered--is there anything you can do to change it or prevent it?

For people unaccustomed to science-fiction or simply holds an aversion towards the genre, be prepared for some serious technical and scientific terms to be casually thrown about through the entire novel. It's a peeve I hold towards the genre, myself, just as hold towards the spy thrillers for their copious lingo usage. I'm a fan of story, and that's what I want in bulk. Thankfully, there's plenty of story to keep a guy like me engaged and turning pages. While someone who actually has a clue what a tachyon is will feel more comfortable with the terminology, Sawyer leaves enough elbow room for non-scifi fans.

I don't know if the show has Robert J. Sawyer's official stamp of approval when it comes to the direction of the story, but I liked the first episode and will be watching it pretty regularly this season. But, I have to admit that I think I'd probably enjoy the show even more if I hadn't read the book, because I feel like I've already listened to a "director's commentary" without seeing the whole season yet.

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