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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Reading List: Flashback

Simmons, Dan. Flashback. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. ISBN 978-0-316-00697-2.
In the fourth decade of the 21st century, all of the dire consequences predicted when the U.S. veered onto a “progressive” path in 2008 have come to pass. Exponentially growing entitlement spending and debt, a depreciating currency being steadily displaced as the world's reserve currency, and an increasingly hollowed-out military unable to shoulder the burdens it had previously assumed in maintaining world stability all came to a head on The Day It All Hit The Fan. What is left of the United States (the Republic of Texas has opted to go it alone, while the southwest has become Nuevo Mexico, seeking to expand its territory in the ongoing reconquista) has become a run-down, has-been nation. China, joined at the hip to the U.S. economy and financial system, collapsed along with the U.S., and its territory and resources are being fought over by superpowers Japan and India, with U.S. mercenaries employed by both sides. Japan, holder of a large portion of the debt on which the U.S. defaulted, has effectively foreclosed, sending in Japanese “Advisors” who, from fortified Green Zone compounds, are the ultimate authority in their regions.

Islamic powers, with nothing to fear from a neutered U.S., make good on their vow to wipe Israel off the map, and the New Global Caliphate is mobilising Islamic immigrant communities around the world to advance its goal of global conquest. With the present so grim, millions in the U.S. have become users of the drug “flashback”, which allows those who take it to relive earlier, happier times in their lives. While not physically addictive, the contrast between the happy experiences “under the flash” and the squalid present causes many to spend whatever money they can put their hands on to escape to the past.

Nick Bottom was a Denver police department detective in charge of the investigation of the murder of the son of the Japanese Advisor in charge of the region. The victim was working on a documentary on the impact of flashback on U.S. society when, at a wrap party for the film, he and his girlfriend were killed in what amounted to a locked room mystery. Nick found lead after lead evaporating in the mysterious doings of the Japanese, and while involved in the investigation, his wife was killed in a horrific automobile accident. This tipped him over the edge, and he turned to flashback to re-live his life with her, eventually costing him his job.

Five years later, out of the blue, the Japanese Advisor summons him and offers to employ him to re-open the investigation of his son's death. Since Nick interviewed all of the persons of interest in the investigation, only he has the ability to relive those interrogations under the flash, and thus is in a unique position to discover something he missed while distracted with the case load of a busy homicide cop.

This is a gritty gumshoe procedural set in an all-too-plausible future. (OK, the flashback drug may seem to be a reach, but researchers are already talking about memory editing drugs, so who knows?) Nick discovers that all of the mysteries that haunt him may be related in some way, and has to venture into dangerous corners of this new world to follow threads which might make sense of all the puzzles.

This is one of those novels where, as the pages dwindle, you wonder how the author is going to pull everything together and begin to fear you may be headed for a cliffhanger setting the stage for a sequel. But in the last few chapters all is revealed and resolved, concluding a thoroughly satisfying yarn. If you'd like to see how noir mystery, science fiction, and a dystopian future can be blended into a page-turner, here's how it's done.

Posted at November 20, 2013 22:41