Dan Simmons is my favorite author these days, so I picked up (the Kindle version of) his latest, Flashback, without ever reading a jacket synopsis of the novel.  Having finished it on a long plane ride back from Colorado, I’m not quite sure I’ve had enough distance to be objective.  As an unabashed Simmons fan, I’m also not quite sure I’ll ever have the objectivity because of high expectations.  But the instant reaction I had was this: not a top-ten Simmons effort.

It really pains me to say that, because I love his work.  Maybe I’m a little too critical because my expectations are lofty, or the story didn’t resonate with me, or make sense in particular places (unusual for a Simmons story), but I can rattle off six other works of his without hesitation that are better (subjective per my opinion) than this.  And if you aren’t writing something that challenges you to at least  think about where this would wedge in the top five, you aren’t setting or meeting the bar you rose to last time.  (Last time, by the way, was Drood, and that definitely enters into a top five conversation.)

Flashback’s dystopian near-future is one where the United States has cowed (via appeasement) to Islam, been splintered into nation-states, and has a large populace addicted to the drug “Flashback” that allows the user to relive any memory.  Because most of the people in the US had better lives before The Day It All Hit The Fan (as it is known in the book), many choose to rely on the drug to live the past rather than face the present and future.

Set in this time are a Flashback-addicted former cop (Nick), who is hired by a powerful Japanese businessman to reinvestigate his son’s murder six years ago that was never solved – a murder that coincided with his wife’s accidental death and subsequent estrangement from his son and father-in-law.  As you expect from a Simmons tale, there are technological surprises, action, sudden and head-turning deaths, and twists throughout.  Unfortunately, the story spends way too much time figuring out where it is going, or at least revealing it to the audience.  (It is in the last 25 pages that true events are revealed.)  In retrospect, the set pieces and interesting backstory don’t make up for the lack of driving plot events.

No comments: