Pink Dog

Flash Forward: science fiction novel comes to TV

Flash Forward: Robert J SawyerBy coincidence, shortly after the launch of the Large Hadron Collider, I read a novel written a decade earlier – about what happens when the Large Hadron Collider is switched on for the first time. In that novel, Flash Forward by Robert J Sawyer, the world’s population blacks out and gets a view of what they’re doing 21 years hence, before returning to the present.

The conceit sets up a myriad of plot ideas. The initial tragedies caused by people blacking out. The fear of those who see nothing, believing they therefore will be dead in 21 years. The relationships under strain when people discover themselves in bed with different people.

People begin to realise that this future is not set, but even whilst it doesn’t have to happen, tracing out what might happen and why still has a powerful psychological pull. Against this rich backdrop, people struggle to work out why the leap forward happened and what will happen when normal time ticks round to that moment in the future.

All in all, it’s an enjoyable romp, provided you enjoy the sort of science-fiction plot that partly rests on ‘oooh strange quantum effects’. The risk with these plots is that they can feel like a cheat – you have a mystery and the answer is magic. It works in this case as the story is much more about the impact the mystery has on people than the working out of the mystery itself.

It does have a blemish when one plot point turns on the unlikely conceit that at one point no-one in the world would have been at home watching the news. “Who would be sitting home watching the news two hours into an unexpected holiday?” asks a character at one point. The plot requires the answer to be “No-one”.

It’s nonetheless a fun trip down anachronism avenue as it shows how quickly the world of media and the technology has moved on in just ten years. In the book, the people of the twenty-first century are video tapping news shows so that they can watch all the news bulletins. Not quite.

So it was a pleasant surprise to turn on the TV on Monday night and discover the book has been made into a (troubled, as it turned out) TV series. In typical TV adaptation style, the 21 years leap into the future has been condensed down into a mere 6 months. With the TV series set to last several months this gives a sense of near-real time progress through the episodes which may reflect the influence of executive producer Brannon Braga, for he also works on the TV series 24 with its real time episodes.

It’s nice to see that Saywer is slated to write one of the first season’s episodes. The first episode was enjoyable, with enough touches from the novel to suggest it will be more than a simple dumbed down, strip out the science and pump up the action, adaptation.

Perhaps not much more, because there were two hints that whilst in the book the mystery was about quantum mechanics, in the TV series it will be about shadowy organisation running a conspiracy (the men in guns closing in on a central figure and the mysterious person in black).

Good enough though to see a diary reminder to watch future episodes. You can always cover your bases and buy the book too. Hope you enjoy either or both.

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