Robert Hampton

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13th January 2008

Hampo’s Book Club, Part 1
Posted by at 3.50pm | No responses | Books

The first of a (hopefully) regular series, proving to everyone that I remember how to read.

The last book I read was Flashforward by Robert J Sawyer. It’s a book I purchased purely on an impulse — I needed to spend an extra couple of quid to push my Amazon order over the threshold for Super Saver Delivery and this popped up as a recommendation.

What immediately got me clicking furiously on the “Add to Basket” button was the fantastic central premise of the story. At CERN, various men with beards are carrying out an experiment using a particle accelerator. Unfortunately something goes wrong and the side effects are catastrophic: everybody on the planet — EVERYBODY, mind you — loses consciousness for just over two minutes. During that time, each person experiences a short fragment of their lives from 20 years in the future — a phenomenon the media soon dub “The Flashforward”.

Some spoilers ahead.

The immediate effect is of course, disastrous: millions of people worldwide are killed in accidents which happened while they were knocked out (brownie points to the author for a side note that no British Rail trains crashed). Everyone else is left to cope with the discomfiting visions of the future. Lloyd Simcoe, a CERN physicist and the protagonist of the story, takes the fatalistic view that the future is predestined and the events seen in the visions are immutable. This theory is soon disproved, however, when several people — after seeing the dismal futures supposedly in store for them — commit suicide.

For some, however, there is an even more unsettling experience: no vision at all. It is concluded that they will die within the next 20 years. Theo, Lloyd’s friend and fellow researcher at CERN, falls into the latter group. An internet appeal leads to several people coming forward with information about his death from their visions. Theo learns that he will be murdered, and sets about trying to prevent it.

The portrayal of the effects of the Flashforward is well done, with extracts from TV and newspaper reports, together with copious references to the UN, throughout the text giving some idea of the global scale of the crisis. The protagonists are forced to deal with their own personal crises arising from the Flashforward, while at the same time investigating why it happened in the first place, adding an emotional dimension to proceedings. Add to that Theo’s murder mystery (a sort of “whowilldoit”, if you like) and there’s a lot going on here.

There are a few bits of physics technobabble in the story. It adds a sense of realism (these are physicists, after all), but after reading discussions of Higgs Boson particles, quark stars and superdense bodies of strange matter, it’s not hard to see why the writers of Doctor Who prefer to use phrases like “Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey Stuff”.

The ending was a bit of a disappointment, but overall, this takes a great premise and does a lot with it.

Crass commercialism! Buy Flashforward at

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