BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An ex-detective-turned-drug-addict gets a chance of redemption if he can find who killed the son of a powerful Japanese megacorp owner, which can be easy if he manages not to get killed in the process.
PROS: Simmons knows his craft, and every one of his stories is a page-turner; the concept of the drug Flashback (already mentioned in other stories, albeit briefly), is too good not to explore further, and that’s what he does here.
CONS: The whole novel smells of hatred – a hate speech that cannot simply be attributed to the mastery of Simmons’s art of convincing his readers through the POV of his characters; there is more than meets the eyes here: a kind of righteous (?) fury with USA’s biggest problems since 9/11.
BOTTOM LINE: It may well be the worst novel Simmons has ever written so far. Only recommended for die-hard fans.
When I first heard of this novel, I immediately became interested because of what its title promised: a further analysis and investigation of the drug Flashback.
Have you read the Hyperion Cantos? That is the correct name of the Hyperion saga, composed of four novels (Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and The Rise of Endymion). It’s my favorite Dan Simmons work to this day.
This is both a good and bad statement.
Good, naturally, because in the Hyperion Cantos, Simmons helped to redefine the Space Opera genre years before authors like Alastair Reynolds revamped it into what today is known as the New Space Opera. At the same time, in the first novel (which is a retelling in the far future of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, by itself no small feat at all), he managed to write mini-novels in different subgenres, from the almost old-fashioned detective story to the military SF adventure, adding a critique of cyberpunk and lots of suspense and even sheer horror to the mix. Among the many contributions of Simmons to the genre, was a imaginary drug called Flashback – in Hyperion, he mentioned it for the first time as a drug that could make its user relive her/his past experiences minute by minute – but its description is quite complex, being a 28th Century drug:
It is definitely an upper-class vice: one needs the full range of expensive implants to fully experience it. Helenda has seen to it that I have been so fitted: biomonitors, sensory extenders, and internal comlog, neural shunts, metacortex processors, blood chips, RNA tapeworms… my mother wouldn’t have recognized my insides.
Later, in the collection of stories Lovedeath, I found a novella with the same title (Flashback), revolving around a nasty consequence of the abuse of the (apparently) same drug, but in the 20th Century. Would it be the same universe of Hyperion? Simmons doesn’t make it clear. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t: there is no way to tell. I liked this new story all the same, because of a twist on it that Hyperion never mentioned (and I won’t tell it so as not to give spoilers).
Then I bought Flashback because I wanted to read more about this imaginary drug.
What I could read about it pretty much satisfied me; Simmons describes a lot more about its uses, its origins, and even some pathologies of its use that made me continue to want to read the novel, despite the hate speech that emanated from its pages.
But you can’t be serious, some of you must be thinking. That’s just damn good worldbuilding and an awesome character construction, right? I mean, Nick Bottom is a very talented cop but otherwise a mediocre man and flashback addict who lost pretty much everything he had in life and can’t help but blame the previous U.S. administrations (it’s not openly said, but it’s clear that it’s the present Obama one), and everyone else in the world wide world, the Chinese, the Japanese, ALL Muslims with no exceptions at all. (To learn more about the story, read John’s review.)
So you enter Dan Simmons’s site and read his monthly editorial (the Message to Dan from June 2011, if I linked it right). There, you read a well-formulated explanation to anyone who dares to doubt that he is only writing fiction: unfortunately, that all goes down the drain when he mentions the incident of the “mosque” building near Ground Zero. And it doesn’t seems to me that he does so as a tolerant, understanding, peaceful man. I’m sorry, but I’m sick and tired of bigotry and ignorance – and when it manifests itself in a writing who used to be so precise and then starts to deliver scenes like the market where the son of Nick and his flashgang friends buy AI t-shirts (one of them being a especially nasty rendition of Vladimir Putin), the whole scene reads like a Tom Clancy story, only worse. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Flashback is awfully irregular. When Simmons focuses on technology, he is very good at it. When he writes about the near future and the U.S., well, who am I to tell? I’m from another country. A country that fortunately escaped the wrath of his worldbuilding, but even so, let’s just say I’m neither convinced nor amused. I’ve read (much) better books by him, and sincerely hope to read more in the future.