38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2011
I'm not a fan of US right-wing politics. Nor do I think well of Dan Simmons's personal politics -- and neither would be worth mentioning if that scatter-shot set of nationalist fear-mongering beliefs weren't reflected so strongly in this book. Nearly every chapter had an awkward, suspension-of-disbelief shattering callback to the current events of 2008-2010. I felt physically thrown out of the story every time I read about Obama's campaign, or a mosque at Ground Zero, or that global warming hoax, or...well, you name it -- if Glenn Beck has cried about it or Fox News has pontificated over it, it's here.
If it were simply a matter of world-building, that would be fine. I found nothing wrong with the future he painted; indeed, it was an interesting and thought-provoking scenario with the quirks and curve-balls I expect from a Simmons novel. Even the politics themselves aren't the issue -- it's the heavy-handedness, the constant intrusion of the author shattering the experience.
Authorial intrusion on this scale is especially obnoxious because Dan Simmons knows better. One quote that he's often referenced in his own Writing Well series comes from Gustave Flaubert: "In his work, the artist should be like God in creation: invisible and all-powerful. He should be felt everywhere and seen nowhere."
Unfortunately you see Dan Simmons shining through every time a character in the 2030s, in a bankrupted, drug-addicted, drawn-and-quartered United States, ruminates over the concerns and uniquely American fears of the present day. This never-ending interruption very nearly ruined what would have otherwise been another spectacular work from a spectacular writer.
I say "very nearly" for good reason. Excepting these jarring anachronisms, the story itself was a page-turner and every bit the expected Dan Simmons novel. A combination of well-written characters, glorious scenery-painting, an excellent story, and a compelling, thought-provoking circumstance show that Simmons remains a master of his craft, a writer who truly cares about his art.
For that reason, I can't bring myself to rate this book badly. Despite all the imaginary face-palms and eye-rolling, feeling like I was hitting speed-bumps every 20 pages, this book was not as awful as some of the other politically-motivated reviews suggest. This is not the high point of Dan Simmon's authorial career, but neither is this a truly awful book.
I can't give it the full five stars, as I was regularly and unapologetically thrown out of the story, but the echoes of Dan Simmons's better works, and his ability to craft a well-written and fun read, were evident, if not quite enough to save the book.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 March 2013
It's refreshing to read a well written novel, and one with something interesting to say. (SPOILERS AHEAD!) At first I was a bit put off by the world-weary detective with a drug problem as they seem to be the only kind of detective that exists in fiction. But the writing is good enough, and the characters well developed enough that it wasn't too much of a problem. And in this novel, being world-weary is kind of the point - and key to the story. That story is original, intriguing and believable, with a mystery that's very well plotted.
So, it's a bit depressing to read all the negative reviews which criticise this novel as being right-wing - basically using the term as a synonym for evil, insane, deranged, utterly-wrong-and-should-never-have-been-written, etc, etc. But there is actually not a lot that's controversial in the near future world Simmons has imagined:
Demographics, immigration rates, birth rates, all show that the Hispanic population of the U.S is rapidly increasing. If the trend continues then it's plausible to imagine a California with a majority Hispanic population that feels more tied to Mexico than a crumbling U.S.
Official statistics also project that the Muslim population will become the majority in most European countries during this century. Majority populations generally control government, and define law and culture, so it's highly likely that there'll be some form of Sharia law across most of Europe (if population trends continue as they are). Furthermore, the Global Caliphate is not some fringe idea of Islam, but an established part of Islamic teaching - so it's sensible to suggest that a Muslim dominated Europe would see itself, along with a nuclear Middle East as a spreading Global Caliphate.
The future Dan Simmons has imagined is logical based on the statistics that are currently available, so other than anti-fact prejudice I'm left to wonder what some people base their criticisms on.
The novel is also very critical of American debt, and blames current U.S. government policy on spending and entitlements for setting a course to bankruptcy. Well, it's a fact that America has vast debts, and a fact that its government is rapidly increasing those debts, and a fact that if current trends continue it will soon be unable to pay off those debts. That equals bankruptcy.
So, what are people criticising Simmons for? The ability to count?
Where I did disagree with Flashback's future is on the timescale. This novel is set in twenty or so years time, but for the demographic changes to take place I'd imagine you're looking at more like 30-40 years time. I also think Simmons misunderstands the situation in Asia. In the novel it's Japan which is a superpower, but they currently have similar problems with debt to America and Europe (although I can see why he wanted the return of Bushido code etc, for the purpose of the story). In reality I would expect it to be China that survives the collapse of the indebted nations.
Overall though, the dystopian future of this novel was very plausible. Simmons builds a theme of an America that is desperate to escape its present by reliving its past: addicted to the drug Flashback, referencing old movies and TV shows, and discussing where it was all thrown away. And from time to time he also links it cleverly to A Midsummer Night's Dream. He does seem to love his intertextuality, and it did seem a bit daft at one point how many random characters had something to add about this play - but it all came together well.
An intelligent, original story. It has some flaws, but it's one of the best novels I've read for some time.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2011
I rather liked it. It's not a fable, or allegory, or political polemic, but a novel set in a world of the author's design. I can see why it would rub people up the wrong way, but if you choose to take a fictional novel as a manifesto, rather than a piece of (thought-stimulating) entertainment, then there we are. It's got good bits about weapons, ninjas, drugs, Islam, truckers, Japs and family. If you like 'The Gone Away World' by Nick Harkaway then you should like this, and vice-versa.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 April 2013
I absolutely adored the Ilium/Olympus series and The Terror, so I was very excited to get my hands on this. Unfortunately, Flashback really doesn't rank up there with Simmons' best.
It's a decent thriller, for the most part, although not as compelling as The Terror, and it lacks the creativity and literary bravery of Ilium. Most annoying, though, is the regular authorial intrusion. Characters keep interrupting the story to pontificate on how Obama and social programs ruined the country, or how Islam should be feared. It's like being sat next to a bore at a dinner party. You just want to enjoy the story, but they keep interrupting the tale with another rant.
I don't care what Simmons personal political views are, but as a writing teacher (as well as an exceptionally talented writer) he should know better than to ruin a story with lecturing.
on 15 July 2014
This is not one of Dan Simmons' better books, in fact it's without doubt the worst one to date. Nothing is essentially wrong with the story, which generates enough interest and suspense to keep you interested despite the numerous cliches. The central ideas, a Tea Partyesque dystopia and a drug that let's you relive chosen memories, are interesting, but the cast of supporting characters are dreadful. Do we really need another washed up ex-cop come private dic, even if this one is addicted to flashback as opposed to being an alcoholic. Add into the mix, alienated youth, a retired former college English professor who has been painfully shown the error of his former liberal views (obviously based on Simmons) faceless barely human jihadis and a raft of racially stereotyped Japanese characters as offensive and anachronistic as Mickey Rooney's infamous portrayal in Breakfast at Tiffanies. Even the literary references, in this case Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, so delightful in other works feel forced and add nothing.
The big problem, however, is that this story is clearly nothing more than a vehicle for the author's rabid islamaphobia and pathological hatred of the Obama administration. Prior to this, he has successfully kept politics out of his books to such an extent that I had no idea what his views were. In my view, he would have been better advised to stick with a successful formula but has obviously given into temptation.
Having started out as a youthful campaign worker for Robert Kennedy, Simmons appears to have completed the drift into reaction that so commonly comes with age. He charts his political journey in a 2012 essay on his website. Born into a poor family that became tribally democratic through the callous indifference of Hoover to the suffering of the Great Depression, it seems strange that he should mirror that indifference in the Great Recession era through his railing against "entitlement programmes." Having first become disillusioned with the Carter administration he avoided voting Republican until 1996 and even got drawn into the wave of optimism upon which Barack Obama surfed to office in 2008. Since then, however, the journey across the political spectrum and into reaction has been completed. Anyone capable of applying the laughably over the top epithet of "far left wing ideologue" to a figure as moderate as Obama clearly has nowhere further right to go and his seeming obsession with the "appeasement" of Iran places him squarely in the ranks of the neoconservatives.
As the author of the wonderful Drood, one of my favourite books of recent years, I'm prepared to cut Simmons a lot of slack and allow him to make his point with this book. Should he continue in this vain, however, my patience will rapidly run out and he'll lose a reader.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 20 October 2011
I love Dan Simmons. In fact, his Sci Fi is quintessential if not mandatory reading by anyone who feels they are a sci fi fan. His Hyperion Cantos, Illium and Olympos and Endymion were exceptional; Hyperion Cantos being one of the five BEST Sci Fi books ever written in my opinion and ive read them all believe me. Unfortunately Dan seems to be politicesing here way beyond whats neccessary for a good story. There was a great story and a page turner in the nucleus of the book but it was marred by almost ridiculous right wing Dystopian nightmare visions and proseltysing of the worst kind. I mean, would the west let (SPOILER) Muslims Nuke Israel without a response? I DONT think so? Would a Global Caliphate of Jihadism take over the World, naaah, not unless they wiped out every christian, Buddhist etc in the World and they could never do that. Would America fall because they provided some healthcare to the poorest people? Would Japan become a Ziabatsu led war mongering country with aspirations to take over the World again, even after the drubbing and nuking during WW2? Get real. The flashback yes, the characters beautifully realised, the core of the story, great but the setting Utter Bullcrp and so unbeleavable as to be ridiculous. Also it really did get on my nerves because there were some quite disgusting comments in there, especially concerning the UK (Apparently we are a socialist country because we provide state healthcare to all and state benefits to those who are supposedly unable to work etc). Dan, we ARE NOT SOCIALISTS in the UK my friend and the idea of helping the poor isnt one to disdain but one to applaud even if we do support all sorts of people who dont deserve it. I wonder if Dan Simmons family were destitute or poor how he'd feel if he couldnt get healthcare or help with food and shelter if he got run over in an accident etc....so good story, great characters, great prose, disgusting politics. Oh and Dan, you have forgotten about the Arab revolution thats going on too....lol. Still a good read even though ridiculous, but hey the rich can afford to spout this kinda tripe right wing politics, theyve never been on the street or unable to get a nose job when they wanted etc.....bad form Dan....
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 6 September 2013
I thought this was a superb book, with a theme that is very current. It's easy to imagine a scenario like this in the future, although perhaps not as near in the future as suggested in the book (about 20 years time?). I think this could take place in rather more time than this. Simmons's observations about the economy are also interesting...
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 14 May 2012
After reading The Terror a couple of years ago, I was looking forward to reading another Dan Simmons. Despite the gushing about Hyperion and the other space operas he's written, it isn't really my cup of tea, and after picking up Carrion Comfort (too heavy for my bag)my interest was piqued when I saw that he'd turned his considerable imagination to the near future. But this is a disappointing and at times, repellent book, when Simmon's right wing politicking, racism, islamophobia, and patriotic gung-hoism gets in the way of what could have been a good thriller.
The story concerns a down and out detective, called Nick Bottom, who is a flashback junkie living in the near future. This future is a dire mess of poverty stricken former superpowers; islamic fundamentalism; terrorism as a daily occurrence; warring factions; independent states; Orwellian levels of state interference, and some rather nifty technologies like stealth copters. Flashback is a highly addictive, inhalation drug which allows the user to tap in to their own memories and re-live them in crystal clear clarity. For Nick, this means constantly revisiting a happier time when his wife was alive, six years ago (that isn't a spoiler) and before the birth of their son (now a wayward, estranged teen).
At the start of the book, Nick is hired by an outrageously rich Japanese man (in the book, Japan has become one of the predominant powers in the world) to find the person who killed his son six years ago. Nick was a policeman during the original investigation, which turned up no leads and, since that time, Nick has fallen deeper in to Flashback usage. But he takes the job, in order to get more Flashback (so he can see his wife). The Japanese businessman re-hires him because Nick is the only person to have seen all of the police documents relating to the case. Nick therefore has been hired to use flashback so he can re-read the police reports of the original investigation, because they have since been destroyed by a computer virus, find new leads and solve the case. (And along for the ride is his Japanese minder, Sato, so, narratively, Nick has someone to bounce ideas off.) As well as this, there are parallel stories of Val, Nick's estranged son, and Val's father in law, an emeritus professor, who is Val's guardian.
Now, much of the writing is good. In fact, Simmons has a knack for an action sequence and a good sense of character. His imagery can often be vivid and quite startling. But just as you are getting immersed in this world, Simmons strides in and smears a right wing diatribe all across the page, pulling you from the action and questioning the whole purpose of the book.
This reeks of one man's fear of Islam. The Caliphate has taken over the world, essentially because America and the West were too conciliatory to Islam in the early 21st century. Different cultures live among each other here, but loathe one another. it isn't made clear why racism is so prevalent, or why Nick continues to mock Japanese pronunciation (totally cringe worthy). Obama is basically to blame for the emasculation of America. The US is being invaded by a huge variety of countries. it is no longer the power it once was. Simmons is using this near future tale to highlight the dangers of Islam; to suggest attacking it is better than making peace; that we simply cannot let America be 'turned.' I don't have a problem with people having strong opinions about politics, or war, or religion, but sections here smack of a flag waving, gun toting patriot rallying the troops.
The basic plot line is interesting: it has the ingredients for a film noir-ish investigative thriller. The basic premise is a little derivative (Minority Report meets Strange Days) but there are some great, inventive twists and sequences, and his prose is so very readable. But these points don't save the book or disguise the ugliness.
I'd love to think that he wrote this book in order to spark debate about the role of religion in society, or to make a comment on technology vs religion- but i fear this is just a bit of Islamaphobia disguised as a novel- and that is hard to ignore when you're trying to enjoy what is supposed to be a thrilling story...
on 10 January 2012
On one hand we have a tautly written thriller set in a future dystopia that is all too believable. On the other, we have an appallingly clunky political polemic the lurches from accusation to accusation.
The main character, Nick Bottom, is beautifully rendered as a drug-addicted ex-cop desperately trying to make sense of the loss of his wife but many of the other characters are parodies - 2D representations that you do not care about. It is this shallow treatment that makes this book fall so short of what it could have been. Religions, cultures, science and political policies are selectively trashed but apparently done so not to set the scene or move the story forward but to further some other agenda. The author claims on his own website that this book does not reflect his own personal views but if not then whose?
This is a complex and interesting book, but only worth 3 stars.
on 19 April 2013
A really enjoyable novel on every level. I read this directly after Great North Road and the difference was astounding. Both are at heart detective stories but Flashback immediately grips you and keeps you interested, completely at odds with Hamilton's efforts.
I can see why some people don't like the ideas in the book but I found it an interesting and believable fiction with an engaging story, well fleshed out characters and enough action to keep it exciting. The dystopian vision of the future painted here by Simmons is an admittedly extreme extrapolation of the direction the world is going but it's not outside the bounds of possibility, certainly not enough to ruin my suspension of disbelief.
Don't let the bad reviews put you off, they nearly did me but my faith in DS's writing thankfully made me give it a go.