FlashForward, by Robert J Sawyer

An experiment that might confirm the existence of the Higgs Boson is scheduled to take place at the LHC, but just as the countdown reaches zero, everyone blacks out and experiences a two-minute vision. The experiment appears not to have been successful, but it seems like everyone's vision was of their own future, thirty years hence.

Three things to look for in SF story like this: the premise, the implications, and the resolution. This book has a cracking premise, pretty good exploration of the implications, and a not-so-good resolution.

After the event, it soon becomes clear that the visions are of a coherent shared future (there are various instances of people "seeing" the same events). Some people though, experienced no vision at all. So perhaps they are no longer alive in thirty years time? Or maybe they were asleep? Many people see things which they're not happy about.

The first question that came to my mind, and which was soon taken up by the characters, was "did we see the inevitable fixed future, or just one of many possible futures?". One of the things I was impressed with was that for all the times I thought "hang on, that must mean...", the book tackled the issue and provided a pretty good answer. In other words, the author had spent time exploring the implications of the premise (some of which I'd thought of, some of which I hadn't).

One particularly nice episode concerned a budding author, whose vision showed that he would be working as a waiter in thirty years time. From this he concluded that he'd never be a successful novelist, and decided to commit suicide. But then he thought: if I succeed in killing myself, that would prove that the future isn't fixed, because my vision could not come true. And if the future isn't fixed, I don't need to kill myself. But if I don't kill myself...

And later, when there are suggestions that the experiment be repeated, there are arguments about what time of day it should take place: since the first experiment was performed at 5pm european time, many people in Japan were asleep and didn't experience any vision (or only had a vision of themselves asleep and dreaming). So surely it would be better to time the next experiment so that the Japanese would have a better chance of seeing something useful?

I think I saw the first episode of the TV series that was "based" on this book, which ended with a pretty creepy cliffhanger where they'd found some CCTV footage of the time during which everyone on earth experienced their vision. In the CCTV footage (I think of a football stadium), everything was still, but then a couple of men appeared, walking across the shot. What on earth were they doing? Nothing like this happened in the book though, so I can only assume the TV series had a completely different focus.

There is some sort of explanation given for what might have caused the flashdorward, and this does sound (to me) sort of plausible - at least, given that the main characters work at CERN, they do discuss what might be happening with respect to quantum theory and entanglement etc. (in fact, the reason why no CCTV footage is available in the book is very nicely explained away).

The ending of the book was the only disappointment, and then really only because the rest had been so good. On the whole, I really enjoyed it.

Completed : 19-Nov-2012

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