Friday, January 24, 2014

Flashback by Dan Simmons

***Profanity Warning - some bad words down near the end of my review***

 It's surprising that I haven't reviewed more Dan Simmons books here. His Hyperion was the first book I ever reviewed, for a science fiction forum on AOL dot com back in the dial-up days, and I've read a few of his novels in the interim, but the only one I've talked about on this site was the sequel, Fall of Hyperion.

I don't know whether to classify the setting for this novel as dystopia, a horror show of near future America. I don't know that Simmons frequents right wing political and economic alarmist blogs, but he could have scooped up the details right out of their pages.

On a side note, I have a tough time taking the apocalyptic rhetoric of the bloggers seriously sometimes, as it turns out when one pursues the references to their obscure origins, that the studies and charts, with their circles and arrows on the back, are coming from someone trying to sell you something. When they bemoan the coming financial meltdown, or disclose the proposals for government wealth confiscation, it turns out they're selling bullion, hedge funds, or offshore tax havens. When they tell you all about Homeland Security's acquisition of armored cars and billions of rounds of ammunition, they've got pallets of generators and survival rations in the warehouse, at a low, low bargain price that would make Cal Worthington and his dog, Spot, sit up and beg.

But don't get too smug, my leftist friends. At the core of your global warming...climate change...scare lies Al Gore's carbon dispensation scam, and all the energy-saving CFLs and LED bulbs recently mandated by the government over those awful incandescents are simple high-margin products paying for GE (paid no income taxes, but paid a gazillion to lobbyists) CEO Imelt's golden parachute. I haven't figured out what the anti-GMO crowd's profit angle is just yet, but be patient, my pretties.

Getting back on track,

  • U.S. Economy in total free fall, new bucks worth 1/100th "old bucks".
  • Israel nuked, and the  surviving Israelis slaughtered, dying of radiation-induced cancers, or living in refugee camps.
  • The Reconquista has most of the Southwest under 'Spanic control.
  • The global Caliphate has established mosques and sharia law enclaves throughout the U.S., supplanting the constitution
  • The U.S. military is pimping itself out to fight as mercenaries for Japan, India, and other emergent powers - on the bright side, the cash-strapped Russians are doing the same.
  • Japanese "advisers" have effective control over federal, state and local governments, and a new "Co-Prosperity Sphere" seems to be taking shape.
  • The educational system no longer pretends to be anything but a warehousing system for young people, and no actual History, Mathematics, or English is taught there. Urban teens roam the streets in gangs, like something out of Clockwork Orange.
  • Prisons have been moved to former sports stadiums, and the guards only real function is containment - the prisoners run the asylum to their liking.
  • Flashback is the new drug of choice. It gives the user to relive, with perfect recall, minutes hours or days from their lives.
The protagonist of Simmons story, Nick Bottoms, is a former police detective, whose wife died in a car accident six years ago. He rapidly descended into Flashback addiction, spending every cent and hour reliving their time together. His job is gone, his PI business down the tubes, his only son is estranged and living with his grandfather, and his only lifeline at this point is being hired by a Japanese billionaire, Nakamura, to re-open the investigation into his son Kireigi's murder in Denver, on which Nick was the chief investigator before his fall from grace. The story is told somewhat like a "buddy flick", as Nick is saddled with an unwelcome partner, the inscrutable former head of Kireigi's security, Sato.

Nick and Sato revisit the scene of the crime, holographically, and start a long series of interviews with eye witnesses.

I wondered, when Nick's son and his grandfather flee Los Angeles with a caravan of heavily armed truckers, and Nick and Sato head to New Mexico in up-armored Land Rovers, given Simmons' literary history, if this was an opportunity to indulge in a bit of "travelers' tale" narration, as well as to expand the background and give us a glimpse of what's going on outside of the big cities.

I think the most telling thing of all, which really encompasses the whole theme of the novel, is that Nick drives a GM Gelding. Not a Mustang, not even a Pinto, but a Gelding. It seems to me symbolic of what America has become, in Simmons' dark future, an impotent shadow of its former self.

An all too rare fun bit "The quality of 3D digital rendering was on the level of virtual movies or TV series being streamed these days, including the popular Casablanca series starring Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Ingrid Bergman, and such constant new guest stars as nineteen-year-old Lauren Bacall...guest stars from different eras such as Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kathleen Turner..."

And, in a discussion of the financial crash that finally took the country down for good,
"'The president has a lot of smart people around him,' Leonard said, standing and getting ready to move away from the retired old fool.
'It's too fucking late for smart people,' slurred the economist, his gaze going out of focus again...'The smart people are the ones who've fucked up this country and the world for our grandkids, Mr. Hot Shit English Lit. Remember that.'"

And, on the future of health care,
"The X-rays had been inconclusive, so the doctor had ordered a CT scan and an MRI to determine if it was cancer and, of course, with the National Health Service Initiative, neither test would cost Leonard a cent. But since the waiting time for both of those NHSI-covered procedures now ran to nineteen months and longer, Leonard suspected he'd be dead from whatever was causing the pain and cough before he got the test."

A scary, gripping cautionary tale, written with Simmons' usual flare. I definitely need to catch up on this author I've neglected for a while.


ProudHillbilly said...

I had to puzzle on the author's name a bit and then do a Google - The Terror and Drood.

Jon said...

Yeah, those are a couple of his more recent novels, but he was a very strong SF writer for a long time before he went semi mainstream.