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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read in one sitting
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,...
Published on 6 July 2011 by L. Timpson

versus
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Simmons's best, but...
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...
Published on 22 July 2011 by James E. Rusler


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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not Simmons's best, but..., 22 July 2011
This review is from: Flashback (Hardcover)
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.
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Annoying, 16 Sep 2011
By 
This review is from: Flashback (Hardcover)
The question I have to ask myself is am I annoyed at this book (and I am annoyed at this book) because its plot and characterisation are poor (another book that deals with disgruntled wayward son and estranged father? What is it about the father son relationship that American authors in particular get so hung up on?) or is it because the author so clearly has a vision of the world (as is and what its going to become) that is reactionary, anti Muslim (though I suspect he would say its anti fundamentalism - not sure I'd agree), and in political terms somewhere to the right of the TEA party.
Don't get me wrong I like (if that's the right term in this instance) good dystopian fiction, SF is littered with warnings about what might happen and how characters would react / live in such a society and like the best SF it's a comentary of what's happening now in the so called real world.
But Flashback isn't in that catergory.
Flashback postulates a world where appeasment to Islam is the norm, democracy is not only dead but should never have been invented, and Japan is going to be the new superpower having forged an alliance with elements in the USA (that might be giving a way a bit of the plot).
And all of this comes about by an economic collapse triggered in part by the USA introducing proper health care for its poorest citizens? Apparently it has absolutely nothing to do with Banks playing roulette with other people's money or a large percentage of very rich people doing their best not to pay taxes.
This is reactionary SF of the worst kind but still I might even have forgiven it if not for the crack about the UK for (slightly paraphrasing here) introducing the evils of the NHS.
So to answer my own question; what is annoying about this book?
I think the answer is just about everything.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Islamophobia makes for ugly reading, 14 May 2012
This review is from: Flashback (Hardcover)
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...
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read in one sitting, 6 July 2011
By 
L. Timpson (Isle of Islay, Scotland) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Flashback (Hardcover)
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Original and Interesting Novel, 6 Mar 2013
This review is from: Flashback (Hardcover)
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Future is no Tea Party, 17 July 2012
By 
A. Ranson "adam8762" (Dursley) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Flashback (Paperback)
Dan Simmons is an excellent writer, as anyone who has read 'Ilium' or 'Hyperion' will know. In terms of narrative and richness of imagination this book is almost the equal of his earlier books- BUT- unfortunately this book reveals a nasty surprise - Dan Simmons is a rabid right wing Republican.

The hero of the tale is a familiar hard-boiled/Noir staple, a washed up ex policeman in a corrupt multi-cultural LA (Bladerunner territory) but the conspiracy that drives the narrative is the consequence of Obama era policies that weaken US world hegemony and resolve. It's a 'Tea Party' analysis of the dystopian consequence of left-liberal politics.

Politics abounds in SF and I suppose I've never been troubled by the left-libertarian 'bias' of authors like Ursula Le Guin (see 'The Dispossesed') and Kim Stanley Robinson (See his 'Mars Trilogy'), but even a downright anarchistic writer like Michael Moorcock has a bit of dialectal debate between contrasting political perspectives before coming down on the 'right side'. No such debate in 'Flashback' which is as polemical in parts as 'Atlas Shrugs'. There is also a rather racist tone to the book, albeit that the narration is from the point of view of a typically right wing cop.

In the end I gritted my teeth, justified the politics as a necessary extension of the protagonist's character and world view and ploughed on to end whilst skipping some of the longer 'taxi driver rants'. The plot however is much more satisfying if you believe that: American Hegemony, Zionism and unfettered free market capitalism are good and that Islam, European Social Democracy and free health care are evil- and oh- that Global Warming is all propaganda.

Much to offend, something to stimulate. Shelve next to 'Foundation' and 'Starship Troopers'.

PS- Some nice touches of SF self-referentiality, including space weapons called 'G-bears' )
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book, 6 Sep 2013
By 
Hydra (Kington, Herefordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Flashback (Mass Market Paperback)
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...
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars mmmm....Right wing garbage but a good story in there somewhere, 20 Oct 2011
By 
Damon Doyle "damonde" (London) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Flashback (Hardcover)
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....
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Awful, 19 Mar 2012
This review is from: Flashback (Hardcover)
Simmons can do so much better than this feeble attempt at a near future dystopia. With its right wing paranoid politics, almost racist depictions of any culture not Caucasian and a hackneyed noir style, this book fails to convince. Sub- Dan Brown plotting made me wonder how Simmons was so brilliant with his shrike novels. Mc Carthy's The Road is so far ahead of this pulp - as a Hyperion to a Satyre (to use a grindingly obvious literary allusion like those that pepper this book and only seem to serve to show us that Simmons has read some decent writing). The last one that I buy.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A good book let down by excesive right wing political commentary, 31 Mar 2014
By 
Killie (Armadale, Scotland) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Flashback (Kindle Edition)
“Flashback” by Dan Simmons is a mystery novel set in the former United States now devastated by economic and political collapse. In this world we get to meet Nick Bottom, who like much of the country is addicted to a drug known as Flashback which lets people re-live earlier moments of their lives. Nick, a former police officer is plucked from his ruined life by a Japanese businessman who wants him to help solve the six year old murder of his son. However, before long it becomes clear that there is much more to this mystery that the murder itself and Nick discovers that his own deceased wife may have been involved in some manner.

When I picked up “Flashback” I was a bit worried as a fair few of the reviews were quite negative. Now that I have finished reading it I find myself in two minds, the actual mystery aspects were interesting and well written but the novel is also interspersed with some quite forceful right wing conservative views that I found a little bit hard to stomach. It isn’t that I can’t accept novels with dystopian societies created by authors with conservative leanings; I mean we get to see enough written by those with a leftish leaning. The problem is that we are almost forced to read vast amounts of padding just included to put forward a right wing viewpoint. At times I found that it actually affected the flow and feeling of the novel, especially when I found myself laughing incredulously at some of the points it was making.

As said above however, the mystery itself was enjoyable to follow and the twists were clever, thoughtful and unexpected. In addition, the dystopian world he has created is actually quite interesting when the anti-liberal rhetoric is reduced to the elements needed for the story itself I was quite impressed. The noir atmosphere that Simmons has created was very likeable and it was very obvious to me that no matter his political views, Simmons does know how to write.

The characters themselves where a bit of an enigma to me, it was hard to actually like any of them to the point that I am not sure I was bothered about who lived or died. The problem is that due to the dystopian environment, the people have been reduced to quite pathetic individuals. This helps to enhance and give real credence to the world Simmons has created but it did make it hard for me to actually engage with any character. In particular I found Nick’s son to be an incredibly unlikeable and annoying character to the point I actually didn’t want to read about him.

Overall, I did enjoy the well written and interesting story that was hidden amongst the political diatribe but getting to it at times could be a bit of work. Perhaps if I was a right wing conservative myself I would have more than loved the politicising but as someone with liberal leanings I came away from the book feeling like what could have been a great book had been let down badly.
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