Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: FlashForward, by Robert J. Sawyer

I was one of those who saw the TV adaptation of Robert J. Sawyer's Flashforward before I read the book.

But I did get to it not long afterward. Sawyer's tale of an international team of scientists at CERN coping with the implications of the totally unexpected event--that two minutes' of unconsciousness in which everyone got a glimpse of their future--was, for me, an appealingly old-fashioned science fiction novel. Reasonably compact, comparatively lacking in the bulkiness and clunkiness that has made me read less and less recent fiction of any kind, it was genuinely interested in its "What if" and straightfoward in its storytelling, as idea-driven fiction generally ought to be. Enough so that Sawyer didn't hesitate to follow his characters' trains of thought about the issue at hand, or permit them to have "explicit dialogues" in the Wellsian (or Shavian) manner. (I, for one, must admit admit I am fond of such dialogue, much fonder of it than the tenth rate Flaubert to which the advocates of "good form" expect us to aspire.) The kind of thing that, with so many people less inclined to it, encouraged me in the view that science fiction was waning as a distinct genre.

Reading the book so short a time after seeing the show I found myself inevitably drawing comparisons between one and the other. On the ABC version we got not an international team working at a particle collider outside Geneva, but a thoroughly Americanized cast of characters and setting, and these turned law enforcement types tackling an international conspiracy, the intellectual interest of the tale cast aside in favor of conventional thriller mechanics and soap opera, and mawkishness about Big Collective Moments like hack journalists write endless amounts of drivel about.

It was predictable that his idea would be forced to fit into the conventions of American prime time network television, and cease to be recognizable in the process. And there have certainly been worse shows. But I preferred the book all the same.

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