Friday, July 27, 2012

Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer

So, there was an idea which began, perhaps, with Greg Bear (at least for me, it may have been written about before his novel, Blood Music), which became a popular theme or gimmick in science fiction, called the Singularity. It generally refers to an event which totally changes the human race, most often for the better, or greater good. There are several endings used by authors which irritate me: the deus ex machina, the "then I woke up", and the Singularity Event. I just feel it's a lazy way to end a novel for which you have come up with no reasonable ending, or of which you've grown tired writing. Unfortunately, Sawyer picks a Singularity to end what up to that point had been an interesting novel, exploring a cool pseudo scientific premise.  Maybe if I was one of the cool kids, the "in" crowd, I'd have been able to read the title and know that Triggers somehow refers to triggering a singularity event...I dunno.

The scenario is in the near future U.S., where terrorist strikes continue to devastate our cities. The latest threat is a type of bomb which vaporizes a relatively small area, and also emits an EMP which temporarily takes down all electrical and electronic systems in the area. It has been used on several cities, and the President and his military advisors have put together a counterstrike which will wipe a certain terror-supporting nation entirely off the map, to let the terrorists know that we are finally getting serious. While the President is making a speech, a rogue element within the Secret Service puts together an assassination attempt, combined with a bomb strike.

The President is rushed immediately to a DC area hospital and goes into surgery to repair bleeding in his pericardium. Coincidentally, at the same time one floor away, a researcher is applying a new type of memory triggering device to a patient of his who has experienced PSTD flashbacks so severe that they are destroying his life. When a the EMP pulse from a bomb which destroys the White House surges through the hospital, a very strange thing happens - people within a fifteen yard radius of the operating room are suddenly given access to the memories of one other person - in a sort of daisy chain - who is also in that area.

The primary Secret Service agent on site is concerned with the national security implications of some unknown person having access to all the President's memories, so a fair amount of time is spent trying to figure out who has whose memories, sorting all that out. Then, the really interesting things, in my opinion, take place, as Sawyer explores some of the possibilities inherent in being able to share another person's memories.

A romantic attachment develops between one couple, and their sex life is made far more intense by one person being able to see and feel what the other is feeling. In another pairing, race reconciliation happens when a black man is able to experience the lifelong soft bigotry of an elderly Southern woman. A physician is able to see in the memories of one of his nurses all the spousal abuse and the substance addiction she's suffering, and offer her a way out. The soldier who is suffering from PTSD is able to force the President to see all of the horrible things he witnessed in Iraq, and for the first time in recent history the leader of the free world really understands the results ordering his forces to war. There are some other interesting examples, but these and the others were making this a really good story.

Then, the Singularity occurs and we have whirled peas and love forever. Ack!

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