Saturday, 10 March 2012

Dan Simmons - Flashback (review)

Although it's sometimes a tricky process, I'll never say that writing a Christmas list is a hardship.  I feel there's something positive about listing dreams, and although there are times when I'm scared to name the big-picture, long-term, life-changing desires, I'm definitely at home to Mr Capitalist-Consumer.

So this year's Christmas list was an interesting mix of toys - from a kit to build your own camera right the way through to Ponyo on dvd(and just in case you're feeling generous - no one got them for me...).  It was a masterpiece of an Amazon wishlist...and being Amazon based (and being mine) it featured a fair number of books.  I ended up with several choice volumes - a work on Disaster Movies as a genre, Terry Pratchett's 'Snuff' and 'Flashback', a novel by Dan Simmons, author of the superb Ilium and Olympos, as well as the Hyperion and Endymion books.  This novel, however, sounded a bit different - still SF, but less far-reaching and potentially less strange.  I looked forward to any book brave enough to name its hero Nick Bottom.  A book about a drug allowing you to relive your past and how that might work in a Private Investigator-type story.  I pictured repeated investigations of memories and the subtleties of experience.  The questioning of reality.  And, this being a Dan Simmons novel, plenty of literary allusions.  And maybe a few literary illusions too.

I am utterly stunned having read it.  And not in a good way.  I almost feel bad writing this, but then having read 550 pages of hate-filled ranting and raving, I need to exorcise the experience by doing a bit of my own!

I had no idea about Dan Simmons' political ideology prior to reading this novel.  I think it's fair to say that none of his ponderings on modern life are a mystery to me now.  Whether it's national health care, Islam or modern architecture, no narrative was brave enough to get in the way of page after page of drivel describing how mad, bad and dangerous they all are.  Honestly at times it felt like sitting alone with an elderly relative, rendered aggressive by poorly chosen medication, listening to their spittle-barbed tirades against the world as they see it.

This was a detective story!  First and foremost it should be about interesting plot twists and a story that keeps you guessing.  And yet I would think that at least half of the book was taken up with unimportant discussions of politics which just left me shaking my head in horror.  In fact, the few errors I found in the story were so glaringly obvious in part because they stood out by not being a political message about Muslims or Socialism.  The 'I'm an evil madman mwahahaha!' speech at the end of the book is followed by the (and I use the word loosely) 'hero' saying that he couldn't help but agree with the gist of the rant.  That just doesn't work!  I know that good villains should be sympathetic.  But there's sympathy and there's...well...there's a scene when a self-proclaimed pacifist fantasises about hanging people from lamp-posts and nuking Muslims!

What's worse, while I've been getting more and more wound up by this book, so it's been eroding much of what I've enjoyed in his previous books.  I can now look back and rather than picking out the good, I end up thinking 'Oh yes, yet another 'nice' woman who is dead, an aggressively strong woman who is alive but not to be messed with, and...well...not many other women at all'.

This is my blog.  I'm allowed to witter on about whatever I like.  Because it's a blog.  If this were a novel, it'd be a pretty poor one.  But not as poor as Flashback.

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