Flash Forward

Reviewed: November 18, 2009
By: Robert J. Sawyer
Publisher: TOR Books
320 pages, $9.99

Scientists usually undertake experiments without knowing exactly how they will turn out, though they certainly have a hypothesis they want to test. The Large Hadron Collidor at the CERN institute was built for the purpose of investigating particle physics. The collidor allows for the creation of sub atomic particles which don’t normally exist in nature. The experiment being conducted on that fateful day in April 2009 was supposed to result in the creation of a Higgs boson particle, one of the particles which the Standard Model of particle physics says ought to exist.

When Lloyd Simcoe and Theo Procopides were very excited to be in charge of this experiment, and threw the switches in anticipation of success - and woke up two minutes later wondering what had happened.

Worse still, everyone else in the lab seems to have passed out at the same time, for the same amount of time.

Even worse, as the reports started coming in from all over, it became clear that every human being on the planet had blacked out for the same two minutes.

The odd thing was that it hadn’t felt like being unconscious. It was more like being caught up in a memory, The problem with that was that all the memories, once the news services began to report on the phenomenon, were of events that would not take place for another 21 years.

It was a while before that became clear because the first order of business had to be cleaning up all the mess and burying all the bodies of the millions of people who had died when they blacked out - or flashed forward, as it came to be called - while driving, walking down stairs, flying in airplanes, crossing the street, or being operated on.

A lot can happen in two minutes.

The scientists at CERN are pretty convinced from the beginning that their experiment had something to do with the disaster, though they could not see how.

Some people, like Theo, have no visions. This is troubling and Theo’s worst fears are confirmed when someone who did have a vision recalls reading an article in which his murder was reported.

Lloyd’s vision is troubling because in it he sees himself married to someone other than his current wife.

From here on the novel follows several plot threads. There are those who want their futures to come true and those who don’t, and then there are those who are trying to outrun their visions (or lack of them) in order to survive.

The last fifth of the book takes place in the time frame the visions showed to the world, as Theo struggles to prevent his own murder based on the clues he has been able to assemble over the years.

Flashforward won the 1999 Aurora Award for Best Long Work in English.

Flash Forward (with two words) is Sawyer’s original title for this novel. You will also find the book with the title FlashForward, which is the title that has been given to the television series currently showing on ABC.

The series uses a lot of the ideas from the book, but also changes things. The flashforwards last for two minutes and seventeen seconds and the future memories are from only six months in the future. The main action takes place in Los Angeles rather than near Geneva. The central characters are a group of FBI agents trying to find out what happened rather than a group of scientists agonizing over what they may have done.

It appears that the TV series will have the visions be the result of an experiment, but one that is more like a plot. So far it bears only a passing resemblance of the story in the book, but it’s interesting enough to keep me watching.