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on 7 August 2017
Flashback is able to sustain the pace and interest through the originality of Dan Simmon's ideas. I enjoyed the combination of detective in a future dystopia and read the book in a short space of time.
My only gripe was the sense that recent political developments were included with a rather tenuous link to the plot. I dislike an author using their art to shove their politics down my throat despite them rapidly become out of date since a new president has entered office in the USA. I felt this aspect weakened the plot and the book.
I still have it 4 stars as I was able to ignore the peripheral negative references to Obama and things like Medicaid. I am also currently reading The Fall of Hyperion and appreciate the great pleasure that these books give.
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on 6 January 2015
Don't listen to the left wing babies, this is a brilliant book, that at heart is just a great detective story. I hope and doubt that many of Simmons ideas about the future are not realised but it is fascinating stuff in my opinion nonetheless.
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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.
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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.
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on 15 May 2017
Starts so well and and has so much potential, but then turns into a thin veiled podium for the author and his political beliefs. The author cant seem to help himself from interrupting the narrative with what essentially amounts to a rant about left wing social polices and its extremely jarring to say the least
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on 2 October 2016
I'm about to do something I usually never do. I'm about to put down a book while still in the middle of reading it, and walk away from it, never to return.

The book in question is by Dan Simmons, an author who has written a slew of frankly excellent books which are widely, and justly, regarded as among the best SF books you can find. In particular, his "Hyperion Cantos" books, published from 1989 to 1997, are top notch works.

But this book, "Flashback", is different. This book is set in a near future, and it shows features of Simmons' personal and political views bleeding through into his story, and not in any useful or charming way. It's not a work of literature, it is a screed. Every page or so, there is some racist digression, a passage that bleeds venom towards non-whites and non-Christians, in one form or another, and a deeply visceral hatred towards those whites that collaborated with racial and religious enemies to ruin the strength of the white and Christian USA.

This book is a racist, right-wing rant. I might be able to finish it, if it were also well-written. But Simmons is preachy and digressive throughout, dumping expository racist passages into the middle of scenes. It would be embarrassingly poorly written for an unknown author. For an established author, it is catastrophically inept.

Simmons, with this book, shows himself to be full-on Tea Party racist (and it's a fair bet that he is banging his drum for Trump these days, though that is purely a conjecture on my part). His book is no more readable than one of Rand's rants, masquerading as literature, is.

And with that, I put it down. I may never read another book by Simmons.
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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.
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on 21 February 2016
Dan Simmons is a great writer - mixing inventive scenarios with interesting characters and pacy thrilling plots. This books contains all of these hallmarks and was a very enjoyable read .
The central mystery and the relationships between the characters are all well crafted and the action scenes keep you on the edge of your seat.
What lets this book down is the intrusive and monotonous view of why the world in general and the USA in particular has gone to hell.
Medicare is bad, militarism is good and Israel should be supported at all costs. This would be fine if only on or two characters mentioned it, and better still if an alternative account was even floated, but no the whole underlying premise of the book is rammed home again and again like a crass commercial for the Republican party.
It's not that the ideas offend, its the lack of wit with which they are presented that makes the reader sit back and drop out of the story . Simmons is capable of better .
It's always a danger when reading a book written by someone in another culture (even one as close as the US ) that you miss some essential clue that tips the wink that the book is a satire, but I really don't think so in this case. If so, sorry Mr S I just didn't get the joke.
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on 17 July 2012
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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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.
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