FLASHBACK by Dan Simmons Log Out | Topics | Search
Moderators | Edit Profile

RAMSEY CAMPBELL » Discussion » FLASHBACK by Dan Simmons « Previous Next »

Author Message
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Mark_lynch (Mark_lynch)
Username: Mark_lynch

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 62.254.173.34
Posted on Monday, October 17, 2011 - 11:40 am:   

Dan Simmons has always talked a good novel, even if he hasnít always written one. Check out his Writing Well section on his website, and youíll see heís erudite, informed, and wise about his craft. Heís smarter than me and writes far better than Iíll ever write. In the late 80s and early 90s he produced some of the best genre fiction being written -- CARRION COMFORT, the HYPERION cantos, PHASES OF GRAVITY, SUMMER OF NIGHT -- and some would say he was possibly the best there was at the time, if only for sheer bravado and variety. In his infrequent short stories of the time, a few had a tendency to poke fun at the evangelical right of the US. Notably represented in the form of charlatan/crazy tv evangelists. Maybe mistakenly, I took this to read he was of the intellectual liberal centre-left of American politics.

A writerís politics shouldnít really affect the way you read them. In his Writing section on his website, Simmons says the authorís voice should be like God and notable for its absence in the narrative. Good advice. And while itís probably impossible to keep some aspect of autobiography or world-view from creeping into your fiction, itís best if itís buried so deep within the text that itís not something you catch your foot on and stumble over.

In FLASHBACK, Simmonsís latest novel (published here in the UK by Quercus), Nick Bottom is a retired homicide detective living in a dystopian near-future America beset by everyday terrorism, Islamic infiltration into mass culture, massive economic collapse, a near take over of the country by Japanese ďadvisorsĒ, border problems from drug cartels, various States declaring independence and leaving the Union, and massive drug addiction problems. The drug in question is Flashback, a narcotic that allows the user to relive in real-time moments of his or her past.

(If some of that sounds familiar, itís because in Simmonsís collection, PRAYERS TO BROKEN STONES, thereís a poignant story about an ex Presidential security guy whoís life revolves around re-living the Kennedy assassination through the Flashback drug.)

Bottomís wife is dead, killed in a car crash, and Bottom has sent his teenage son off to Los Angeles to live with the boyís professor grandfather, while Bottom sinks lower and lower into Flashback addiction. Heís hired in the capacity of private detective to look into the death of the son of a Japanese ďadviserĒ, and thus the near-future nourish plot begins.

And alas, Simmonsís authorial views start to crop up. Not as little ridges in the text that you trip up over as you go, but as great towering escarpments you ram into and are left stunned and from which you find yourself staggering back.

In FLASHBACK, a tale set 30-odd years down the line from here, it seems every other chapter has a lengthy paragraph or two Ė most often disguised in a characterís thoughts Ė about how all Americaís woes stem from the Obama administration and the Presidents that followed. For the characters in Simmonsís book, economic collapse has not come about through reckless banker greed and unfettered capitalism run riot free of moral boundaries, but through the unaffordable introduction of ďentitlementĒ programmes, such as the American NHS. Obamaís first address to the Arab nations of a few years ago is described as appeasement, and the withdrawal of American force from that region an example of American surrender.

Hereís the spoiler bit:

The book goes on, raising some of the same fears Michael Crichton brought up in RISING SUN, about Japanís economic interests in the country. Chinaís owning most of America is neatly dismissed in an economic collapse (because Chinaís economy is fuelled by a central state and thus not a real economy cos itís a fake market). Nick Bottom solves the crime while weaning himself off the Flashback drug (invented and introduced into the western world by those pesky Japs, donít you know?), and he and his family escape to the free state and now independent country of Texas, where, and I shite you not, the characters proudly talk about how you pay for your health care there and get it straight away, none of your NHS waiting list of two years, thatís the way they like it. The characters donít explain how those on poorly salaried jobs pay for that care, or what happens if they have long-term chronic conditions. The book finishes with the Texans planning World War 3 on Islam with the help of some sympathetic Japanese, while those Jews forced to flee the nuclear zone that is Israel return there.

Or does it finish there?

Because I find it terribly hard to believe that Simmons could write such a heavy-handed and often ill-informed piece of work. (His one notable mention of the UK in his near future, by the way, is to castigate it for creating the evils of the NHS.)

In the book, Flashback Two appears toward the end of the narrative, a drug that allows its takers to not simply relive moments of their past in perfect detail, but to create a fantasy version of life, according to their own whim.

Maybe, unlike Bottomís waking from a Midsummer Nightís Dream, this whole book has been smarter than it apparently seems to be, and itís the crazy dream of a right-wing nutter...

You can live in hope, right? Even though most of the UK Amazon reviews seem to focus on the right wing rants and Fox News worldview. Perhaps thatís a bit harsh; after all, Simmons has an apparently lesbian cop in the book and doesnít make any moralising judgements on that front. And heís not fronting Christianity as the way forward in response to radical Islam.

But the author being as absent as God in the narrative? In this case, I fear not. Sadly.

Of course, when I read a left-leaning novel, although I might groan a bit, I donít feel as disappointed as I did while Reading this book by Simmons. So political leanings do shade the way you feel about these things. But I am disappointed by Simmonsís book.

And now Iíve just returned it to the library.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Joel (Joel)
Username: Joel

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 217.37.199.45
Posted on Monday, October 17, 2011 - 01:47 pm:   

This is depressing.

I'm faintly surprised that Obama and Cameron didn't simply agree to swap health systems last summer.

American pays more per capita for healthcare than any European country, but the life expectancy is lower there than in any other Western country. Healthcare reform has the overwhelming support of the American people but was fought against by a dishonest, hysterical, McCarthyite campaign of fear and hate.

What puzzles me above all about how Americans represent their politics is the way many of them refer to the Democrat Party as 'the left wing'. The Democrat Party is the right wing. The Republican Party is a sick, twisted extreme of the right wing. The left wing is the Committee for a Workers's International, the Communist Party and some related organisations, none of which have any voice in the mass media.

But yes, it's sad to know that Dan Simmons is one of the cheerleaders for the sick, vicious madness of the American right. I wouldn't have thought he was rich enough to have got there.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Mark_lynch (Mark_lynch)
Username: Mark_lynch

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 92.40.253.155
Posted on Monday, October 17, 2011 - 01:54 pm:   

I'm still resisting the notion that he is, Joel. I'm just hoping he's been sucked into the false notion that's been pedalled over there that the government will decide your healthcare full stop.

But a surprising number of Americans I'd assume to be liberal really are suspicious of Obama-care, as it's being called.

The only higher success rate in treating illness the Amrican medicare/private medicine has over the UK NHS is in cancer.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Craig (Craig)
Username: Craig

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 99.126.164.88
Posted on Monday, October 17, 2011 - 04:01 pm:   

I would venture to say, there's not, oh, one person in seven in America, who could tell you what "Obamacare" is, or does. I myself, have almost no idea how it changes anything, and what those changes are. Even Nancy Pelosi, at the time the Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives, (in)famously said: "We have to pass this bill so you can know what's in the bill." It passed, and we still don't know - and I doubt Nancy could explain it, either.

Btw: Joel, just so you know - the term "Democrat" as you're using it there, the "Democrat Party," though correct - Democrats now take great umbrage at that: they'd actually assume you're a right-winger by doing so. The far right now uses that term with gusto, to ridicule. It's "Democratic Party" - the Democrats don't like how it ends on a "rat," the other way....
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Joel (Joel)
Username: Joel

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 217.37.199.45
Posted on Monday, October 17, 2011 - 07:18 pm:   

Thanks, Craig!
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Mark_lynch (Mark_lynch)
Username: Mark_lynch

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 92.40.254.92
Posted on Monday, October 17, 2011 - 07:32 pm:   

Here in the UK, Craig, the coalition governemnt, made up of Liberal Democrats and Conservatives, really doesn't like to be known as the Con-Dems...

Height of political debate, eh.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Tony (Tony)
Username: Tony

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 81.157.19.141
Posted on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - 10:07 am:   

That's an excellent review, Mark. I'll avoid.
Now review Last Werewolf! :-)
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Tony (Tony)
Username: Tony

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 81.157.19.141
Posted on Tuesday, October 18, 2011 - 10:08 am:   

Even my kids of 16 and 13 know the US health system is wrong.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Protodroid (Protodroid)
Username: Protodroid

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 109.79.23.253
Posted on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - 01:09 am:   

"Simmons has an apparently lesbian cop in the book and doesnít make any moralising judgements on that front."

I don't think we can read much into that these days. Mrs Thatcher's cleverness was to unhitch economic liberalism from social and cultural conservatism. A couple of decades down the line we have Cheney (de facto President of the USA for two terms) with an openly lesbian daughter, and it didn't cramp his war crime activities one bit. Progress.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Craig (Craig)
Username: Craig

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 99.126.164.88
Posted on Wednesday, October 19, 2011 - 02:57 am:   

Watching the American Republican debates tonight on CNN, I've become convinced of one thing:

Anderson Cooper is Elric of Melnibonť.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Protodroid (Protodroid)
Username: Protodroid

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 109.79.114.237
Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2011 - 12:36 am:   

"Anderson Cooper is Elric of Melnibonť."

Though I only understand the words "is" and "of" here, I think I can say with some confidence that you're absolutely right.
Top of pagePrevious messageNext messageBottom of page Link to this message

Tony (Tony)
Username: Tony

Registered: 03-2008
Posted From: 86.153.150.243
Posted on Thursday, October 20, 2011 - 12:58 am:   

The lesbian cop was probably just a bone he threw us.

Add Your Message Here
Post:
Bold text Italics Underline Create a hyperlink Insert a clipart image

Username: Posting Information:
This is a private posting area. Only registered users and moderators may post messages here.
Password:
Options: Enable HTML code in message
Automatically activate URLs in message
Action:

Topics | Last Day | Last Week | Tree View | Search | Help/Instructions | Program Credits Administration