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.