Book Review: Flashback by Dan Simmons

Tuesday, August 02, 2011
The last book I read by Dan Simmons was "Hyperion", published in 1989. I own the paperback edition, which didn't come out until 1990, so that's probably when I bought it.

When I finished it, I was tempted to throw it across the room. I've only done this literally with one book, but I've done it mentally several times. The reason? It wasn't because it was a bad book. On the contrary, I had gotten totally wrapped up in the story and, since it's 500 pages, I'd spent a number of hours in its world. As with most good books, I'd read faster as I got to the end, eager to find out the resolution to the story... only to find out that there was no resolution in this book. It ended on a cliffhanger and the next book wouldn't be available for another year.

I hate when that happens. I hate it so much that I refused to read another book by Dan Simmons. (I will confess to buying the next two sequels, but I didn't read them. I was waiting to know for sure that when I got to the end, it would really be the end. There's a fourth book that I don't own. Why buy a book that you're not going to read? After several years I realized that I'd have to read the first book over again to remember enough of the story in order to continue. That hasn't happened yet.)

Then recently I saw a glowing review of "Flashback" and learned that Dan Simmons writes mysteries as well as science fiction. It sounded intriguing, so I reserved it at the library.

Intriguing may be too mild a word. There's a lot of invective in the reviews on Amazon and Barnes and Noble because people assume that the political beliefs of the characters are those of the author. On his website, Dan Simmons says that his fiction is not an excuse to espouse his personal political beliefs. I'm reserving judgment. I believe that it's possible that he played the author's "What if?" game with the current political situation and extrapolated what might be in the near future.

It's also possible that Simmons does have a political ax to grind.

Regardless of whether Dan Simmons is a right-wing Tea Party apologist or not, the story is intriguing and all too possible. The United States has fallen from its position of preeminence in the world due to the collapse of the economy.  Entitlements (yes, he does mean Obamacare) have bankrupt us and the only source of hard cash the government has is hiring out the military to fight for the Japanese in China. The Global Caliphate is taking over the world in a series of pincer movements. They've killed six million Jews by using a nuclear bomb on Israel. There are only 44 states and the reconquistas have taken over the Southwest. (Yes, I had to look it up, too. Click on the link. Although I've heard about Aztlan since moving to Tucson, reconquista was a new one to me.) Texas is once again a republic.

Meanwhile most of the population uses Flashback, a drug that enables you to remember happier times. Cheap and readily available, you focus on what you want to remember before going under the flash and relive the experience just as if you were there again.

Our hero, Nick Bottom, former detective for the Denver PD, is a flash addict. He uses the drug to remember times with his wife, who was killed six years ago in a traffic accident. Lost in his own grief, he shipped his son, Val, out to L.A. to live with his father-in-law. Val runs with a flashgang, a group that commits acts of sex and violence for the "pleasure" of reliving them over and over under the drug.

Then Nick is summoned by a Japanese businessman, one Nakamura, whose son was murdered shortly before the death of Nick's wife. Nick was the detective on the case and they never did find out who the murderer was. Nakamura wants to hire Nick to find the killer and promises him a lot of money. More money than he'll ever need. Enough money that he can spend the rest of his life under the flash with his dead wife, Dara. What drug addict wouldn't take Nakamura up on his offer?

Dan Simmons is a master storyteller. His projections based on the current situation, his games of "what if?", are fully believable and thoroughly fleshed out. There were a few passages where the political rants of his characters could have been edited down, but, once you agree to accept him at his word that these are characters, not the author speaking, they lose some of their sting. Some. Not all. This is a scary and very believable future based on what has gone on in the past few years and what continues to go on today.

The mystery is intriguing, with enough twists to keep you guessing (although I figured out the killer earlier than the author probably intended). Most of all, these are characters you care about. Nick and Val and Leonard are all real people with real problems, dreams, and desires.

I recommend this book and if you want to throw it across the room when you're done, go ahead. It might be because Dan Simmons hits a nerve.

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