Let's read and discuss "Flashback", the new novel by Dan Simmons.

Just bought Dan Simmons’s new novel Flashback the other day and have read about 40-odd pages in. I looked the book up earlier today (it was an impulse purchase) and found out this one is rather controversial. I haven’t read far enough into it to say if the criticisms are valid one way or another, but what I’ve read so far is gripping enough.

It is Dan Simmons, after all.

Those of you who have read his earlier work may have happened upon his short story of the same name. In this story (hazy memories inside the spoiler box),

the narrative follows an ex Secret Service agent who was present for a successful assassination attempt against the American President. Since that time, the country has fallen apart as its citizens (including the agent) become addicted to the drug Flashback, which has the effect of allowing one to relive any moment of your life, in time-increments of up to 2 days (so you can relive that crazy weekend with the two girls over and over). In the end (mouseover white text follows) the agent finds out the Japanese are responsible for Flashback and its successful destruction of America, but is killed before he could make his knowledge known.

Cheerful stuff.

However, the novel is more dismal. It is 30 years in the future and America has disappeared, taken over and broken up, Texas and Alaska their own nations, much of the SW taken over by Mexico (Mexico suffered a civil war, so 22 million people headed for the border and overwhelmed civil and military authorites by sheer numbers), the New Great Caliphate taking over much of the US (September 11th is celebrated as a holiday, as the first shot in an ultimately-successful war against the US hegemony by “Islam”). 87% of the country is addicted to Flashback and the Japanese have divided much of the country into 7 regions, each with their own governor. (I’m still a bit unsure about the political fragmentation - I’m sure some of this will be revised as I read further into the book).

Nick Bottoms is an ex-cop, addicted to Flashback, who is hired by one of the 7 governors to investigate the murder of his (the governors) son. He has a son named Val (after Val Kilmer) who belongs to a Flashgang in LA, the gang having just raped a retarded girl so they could relive it with Flashback. LA is apparently about to go up in flames, and I’m sure the next part of the novel will have to deal with the kid and father getting together again (the kid wants to kill his father, then relive that on Flashback).

It’s one of the grimmer dystopias I’ve read, easily worse than Brin’s Earth.

I’ll comment (in spoiler boxes) as I read the novel, and I would love it if one or three or more of y’all can find a copy at your local library (or buy at Borders in their liquidation sale) and read along with me (I have other books to read, I can wait a week or so before I pick this one up again). Anybody game?

In the spirit of knowing that sometime in the next 100 years somebody may want to talk about this book, I will continue this thread. You can thank me later. :wink:

For starters, I’m not an English major. I don’t really care about character development (I prefer it if the protagonist fails, but most books aren’t written that way) and if a story is missing the problems of a human heart against itself, I don’t necessarily find that to be a failing in the books and novels I prefer to read. So I don’t really care if the protagonist recovers from his Flashback addiction, or reconciles with his son, or whatever, I’m more interested in whether the damn story fits together, if the setting makes sense, and other boring technical details of the book.

David Brin wrote in the introduction to Earth that 50 year extrapolations are among the most difficult of exercises because they require you to modify the current world in a more technical way than a space opera set 600 or 6,000,000 years in the future, where you can handwave your societies development by saying “in 2212 AD the interstellar empire was born with the development of the hyperdrive…”. With a <50 year extrapolation, your starting point is now, which makes it all the more difficult to be believable.

Dan Simmons has done the space opera thing before in his Hyperion and Endymion series, so I know he can do large scale world-building, but in Flashback he attempts to extrapolate an America that will exist just 30 years from now - unless things go horribly awry, most of us now would live to see this America, so imho, it had better be believable.

(I’m going to go ahead and spoiler-box this - the book is only a month old, after all. And I’m on page 182, so if I’m completely wrong in what I say, assume, or believe to be true about this book, that’s Dan’s fault, not mine. :wink: )

[spoiler] I thought Brin’s Earth was unlikely. Possible, but very unlikely. However, compared to Flashback, Earth looks like the Oracle of Delphi… unless you are Der Trihs or Gonzomax, whereupon you probably prefer the future of Flashback. :stuck_out_tongue:

In 25 years, because of the Obama administration passing huge entitlement programs that the government couldn’t afford (the possibility of cancelling these things never crossed anybody’s mind in this world, btw) the economy has completely collapsed, with the US in what the characters mockingly refer to as its 23rd year of jobless recovery. There’s about a 50% unemployment rate which has gone on for decades, people are living in cubicles built within abandoned shopping malls, etc. The entire US economy exists to pay the interest on the debt caused by the entitlement programs we were too stupid to cancel.

But the US doesn’t exist anymore, I don’t think… it’s a bit confusing. Hawaii broke off. Alaska seceded. Mexico suffered a civil war, causing 22 million Mexicans to head north into the US, overwhelming the federal government (this migration called the reconquista). Texas broke off from the US and somehow, without the assistance of the US army, resisted the migrations (and safely removed it from Simmons’ story, freeing him the pesky need to write about Texas). The Japanese have bought all the US debt and are now in sovereign control of the US, dividing the remainder of the country into 7 economic zones. However, the characters keep referring to the “United States” as it is some viable entity, so like I said, I’m a bit confused on this matter. Hopefully clarity is forthcoming).

The only thing the US is good for anymore is providing soldiers and military gear to the Japanese and Caliphate armies. Nevermind the fact that military might is a function of economic might, America just rents out its army and navy to the Japanese. Because making war is all we’re good at or something.

The top global power is the Islamic Caliphate (China burst apart in a spectacular economic bubble collapse and are no longer a superpower), who vies with India and Japan for global dominance. The United States is now a predominately Moslem country, with 9-11 being remembered as a national holiday as the first strike against the American Hegemony (this holiday being enacted no later than 2030 (19 years from now)). The worlds largest mosque now resides at Ground Zero.

But you see everybody is cool with this because 87% of the population is addicted to Flashback, where they spend most of their days reliving our favorite memories in a full tactile hallucinagenic (sp, but I’m too lazy to look it up) trip - so if I wanted to relive my first sexual experience (or my first good sexual experience), I would take flashback and relive the act.

So I’m reading this and I’m thinking WTF? 30 years? In 16 years, I’m to believe that the now-predominately Christian US will be Islamicized (is that a word) enough so that we will accept a 9-11 holiday celebrating the terrorists POV? I’m to think that 87% of the country gets addicted to Flashback? (It is stated that the drug itself isn’t addicting, it’s the reliving the best moments of our lives that is so addicting. I have a good life but I can not believe that it’s been so good that I want to spend the rest of my life reliving it). Japan is going to invade China using an “endless stream” of US troops? Really? In 30 years?

Just because we owe them money?

And that’s the problem with this world (if I understand it right, which I may not: this entire spoiler-pity-party may be completely off base) – it’s predicated on the assumption that the US government and people would never default on its debt, that whoever owns it (the Japanese, in this book) would be able to literally claim swaths of the country as economic and human collateral, where the people of the United States exist largely to service the debt, even to the point where we institute mandatory military service so we can serve as the shock troops in Japanese and Indian wars.

Also, he posits that in 16 years, all of the current population will be Islamicized enough to accept a 9-11 holiday in support of the terrorists viewpoint.

And that we’re fine with this and were fine with it up to the point where the novel begins (no mention of a US civil war, except for the secession of TX, AK, HI, and the reconquista) because everybody is addicted to Flashback. He makes it a point to mention that all Americans are flashing back to happier days (pre 9/11 or pre-collapse), but none of the characters (so far) have bothered to do so, all reliving days since the collapse.

I mean… really?[/spoiler]

Dan Simmons tends to make big mistakes in his works – for example, in the Hyperion and Endymion books, he screwed up when

in the Fall of Hyperion Dan has a monster, the Shrike, remove a cross-shaped object that allowed resurrection from a character’s chest (Father Paul Dure), only to have this person resurrected in the next novel because of the object still embedded in his chest, the object removed in the previous book. There was also a rather large on in his Olympos series, but I can’t remember what it was.

In this one, it’s his timeframe. Had it been 75 years on out, with the US losing a war or three, I can buy it. But in 30 years and without a fight, the US collapses to the levels in Flashback? I don’t buy it.

And I won’t even go into Six Flags Over the Jews.

This book is weird – it’s a right-wing horror story complete with entitlement-program spending destroying the country, an overwhelming Islamic wave overtaking the world, and blaming Obama for policies that, in the real world, he hasn’t even enacted. And this from a guy who teaches English in what I thought was a pretty lefty town (by US standards), Boulder Colorado.

It would have been nice had he shown us he was this tighty-righty before.

Oh wait, he has.

Dan Simmons is my poster child for Artists Who Turned Right After 9/11. I know there are others, but Dan was a mild-mannered English teacher pre-9/11, now he’s warning us of the impending Islamic Caliphate. (He didn’t have much respect for it in Hyperion, but in that book, Islam was an afterthought - most of the population was irreligious).

The plot (a murder mystery) is moving along nicely, but there are a few too many blatantly expository characters - people who seem to exist merely to fill in some part of the background.

I recommend it, especially if you hate the US. Or Obama. :wink:

Well, there it is, and maybe that’s why there haven’t been any responses. Everything I’ve seen so far indicates it’s right-wing Disaster Porn. Just speaking for myself, I might give it a go if I find a used copy somewhere, but I’m not rushing out to find it.

I was tempted to respond when you first posted, but it would have only been to say that Simmons has a long way to go to redeem himself after Black Hills and that I wouldn’t read Flashback on a bet. But that’d be threadpooping.

I’d be having the same issues with the time frame, and probably with the whole premise of a flashback drug. Does it come across to you as Simmons’ excuse to write more porn? Are most users flashing back to sexual experiences? Nobody’s reliving Woodstock or baby’s first birthday?

If I weren’t already reading another dystopian book now (Charlie Huston’s Sleepless) then I’d be interested, JohnT, but I can only take so much bleakness at a time. A “right wing disaster porn” novel would be something different, anyway, since most novelists lean left.

(By the way, Huston’s solution to the plausibility issue was to set his book in 2010, making it alternate history rather than near-future.)

Sorry to hear that Simmons has gone a little nutty. I like the Hyperion series, and I just recently read his novel The Terror, which I thought was excellent.

AuntiePam, what was wrong with Black Hills? I haven’t read that one.

Nah, no porn yet. It’s mentioned that people do it, but there have been no in-book flashback sequences that involved sex… not yet, at least. I’m on page 182 and there’s a fair amount of reading left to do.

Didactic. Don’t know if it was padding for length or Simmons wanting readers to learn something, but his info-dumps really slowed things down.

Improbable sex scenes. Custer and his wife go behind some bushes so she can blow him, with the troops not 20 feet away on the road. He writes letters to her that belong in the 1876 version of Penthouse Forum. (I’m searching for a pun on Deadwood, can’t find one.)

I didn’t finish it. I’d just come off another polemic from a favorite writer, Facing Rushmore by David L. Martin, so maybe it was overload.

Meh, a drug that lets you relive your happiest memory? He so totally stole that from Brain Candy.

When did BRAIN CANDY come out? 1995 or so? In any case Simmons introduced the drug Flashback at least as far back as 1989 in HYPERION.


Actually, Flashback was a drug in the Simmonsverse long before the movie Brain Candy was released… the original short story was published in 1991 and collected in the volume Lovedeath in 1994. The drug was even mentioned in Hyperion (1989).

Yeah, I guess the Brain Candy angle was wishful thinking, since hardly anybody saw it anyway.

I did read Hyperion though ironically I’ve no recollection of the memory drug.


Is Dan Simmons a paranoid right-winger? Because this is paranoid right-wing wet dream material.

Also, how is it that Japan has divided the nation into seven parts if the nation is basically taken over by Mexico, “Islam” (wtf?!!?), Texas and Alaska?

Did Japan divide the whole country, or just the northwest?

Looks like the whole country except for California, New Mexico, Texas, Alaska, and Hawaii. There is a “US Government” but it exists only as a puppet state for Japan. The remaining US is broken down into 7 regions, each governed by a Japanese governor.

He speaks to that here. Or rather he says he speaks to that. I’m seeing a lot of “Some of my best friends are liberal” in this piece.

Martin Silenus’s tale, taken during the period where he was rich and famous from his Dying Earth books. Mentioned in passing, it was not an important story element in Hyperion.

Not only is it right-wing wet-dream material, it is kinda dated. C’mon, Japan? Fear of Japan is so 90’s. Japan is in a far deeper hole, economically, than the US.

Important to Martin, in that his Mom was addicted to it and it made him not want to use it for a period of time. Brawne’s tale also mentions it in passing as does the Consul’s story. There are also mentions of it in THE FALL OF HYPERION, but I don’t believe it is mentioned in the ENDYMION books.

But putting that aside, let’s get back to the story/novella “Flashback” and the new novel, FLASHBACK.

I finished the novel a few weeks back and rated it 4 out of 5 stars and the reason it didn’t receive the 5th star was because of some of the things mentioned earlier in this thread. I thought the politics of the book were too one-sided and, seemingly united throughout every character’s viewpoint. That might not have bothered me as much if the tale were set further in the future, not so close as 2035 or so.

But that being said, the rest of the novel (plot, characters, mystery, love story & the idea itself of a drug like flashback) far outweighed my aversion to the politics involved. I was able to disengage my own political beliefs enough to let the story pull me along.

As for the novella “Flashback”, this may be the 1st time I have enjoyed one of Dan’s novellas better than the novel he has expanded one into. And I was always hoping he would expand this particular story. But obviously I enjoyed it enough to rate it 4 of 5 stars.

The funny thing about FLASHBACK is, if Dan had expanded the original novella, “Flashback” into novel form earlier, say around 1994, a year after it was first published in his collection LOVEDEATH, then the politics involved (while not as pervasive or repeatedly expressed as they are in the 2011 novel… probably due to the length of the story) would be quite the opposite in their blame assessing. I was just looking at the novella and Dan’s introduction to it, and both he a main character in the story, put the blame for that dystopian future (set in 2013, 50 years after Kennedy’s assassination) squarely at the feet of Ronald Reagan and his policies. Here are the two excerpts, first from Dan’s introduction and then one of the main characters point of view:

Then it would be right-wing folks posting negative reviews on Amazon. It’s not like they don’t make a stink when they think someone is taking a shot at their side of the aisle. Remember the mimi-series about Reagan? I guess it all depends on how we all view these matters and how much we can accept putting up with when reading a particular book.

For example, check out this review of the stories from Dan’s collection LOVEDEATH I copied from the web. It was from the alt.horror newsgroup back in 1993. Pay special attention to the commentary regarding the story, “Flashback.”

Greg, sorry for the long post.

Well, we know from his postings on his own forum that he is a strong defender of Israel and, certainly after 9/11, we know that he has strong opinions about Muslims––especially those radical/militant/terrorist version of Muslims. He seems to be definitely worried (as am I & I’m sure many, many others) that if one of these groups were to get hold of a nuclear weapon or biological weapon of mass destruction, that they wouldn’t hesitate to use it against us or Israel. I’m not sure how likely this is, but it certainly isn’t out of the realm of believability.

I think what most people (including me) are reacting to is the belief that somehow the Al Qaeda wing of the Muslim population and the groups that do want to bring about a caliphate and rule the world via sharia law will ever be large enough or influential enough to ever have the power to bring about such a world that they envision. I don’t and can’t speak for Dan Simmons, but it seems like he and others think this is a real possibility. I may be way off base with all of this, but that’s just how it see it.

As for how liberal or conservative Dan Simmons really is, I guess it would depend on the issue. I know he has posted several times on his forum about his views on gun control and how he would deal with them. Take this quote from his forum back during the 2008 election, I believe. He was discussing this subject with a couple of his forum regulars…

So, on at least a few topics he isn’t “faking” liberalism or what some would consider liberal positions.


I never finished this thread, though I finished the book quite a while ago. Figure I might as well bring closure to this one…

Here’s how stupid the ending was:

  1. I read it late at night in a “I want to get through this before I fall asleep” state of mind.
  2. I finish it, then fall asleep.
  3. I wake up, thinking “You know, that ending was so dumb I had to misread it because I was (a) rushing through, or, (b) too tired to comprehend. Let’s try the last 50 pages again.”
  4. Found the ending was as stupid as I remembered.

Warning: I’ve already sold the book, so what you’re getting is memories. You have been warned.

Looks like the Japanese are not only responsible for the Flashback addiction, they have developed a new Super-Flashback which will put you out for weeks at a time. They are doing this because… shit, I don’t recall the reason, only that it was as stupid as watching Agent Smith pull a Duracell out of his pocket while saying “batteries.” The Japanese wanted to invade the US, take ownership once we were so addicted we would default on the loans, something along those lines. Hell, it might have been computing power (a smarter Agent Smith answer) or :shudder: batteries. As I said, I sold the book and can’t look it up. Sorry.

So the protagonist learns all this, there’s a chase scene (isn’t there always? How many chases have you been in during your life?) and at the end, the protagonist ends up in Texas, which is re-arming and about to kick ass, American style. His flashback addiction is done (after being clean for about two weeks! What sort of addictive drug lets go after two weeks?!?), he is reunited with his son, the army of Texas is going to take on the world, and the world-building still sucked as it did in the beginning.[/spoiler]

Like I said, I sold the book.

Anybody else read this? Have a different opinion? Hell, even reinforcement of what I believe is OK ( :wink: ).

Uh, why do you think that I of all people would like a right wing fantasy like this?