“Triggers” by Robert J. Sawyer (Ace, 2012)


Award-winning author Robert J. Sawyer’s new novel, Triggers, is a little different to what readers might be used to from this science fiction writer, as the genre he’s used to writing in some ways becomes secondary to the main story, which is more about the relationships and interactions between a great cast of characters.  The science fiction is still very much there as part of the plot, but by the end you’re caring more about the people than the science.

In a time not too distant from our own, there is a world ravaged by terrorism and fear.  The United States is one of its most vulnerable victims, the events of September 11, 2011 merely a precursor to more devastating attacks on other cities such as San Francisco, Chicago and Philadelphia.  With the development of a new kind of bomb that remains undetected, its destruction is unmatched, and yet it isn’t nuclear; its fallout emits an electromagnetic pulse, and by then it’s too late.

President Seth Jerrison begins a very important speech at the Lincoln Memorial, as he mentally prepares for the ultimate attack aimed at those who have caused the most harm; a devastating message equal to that made during World War II that brought it to its abrupt end.  Barely into the speech, an assassination attempt is made and Jerrison is shot.  He is rushed to the hospital and immediately treated, barely surviving a traumatic injury.  At the same hospital is Dr. Ranjip Singh who is performing a unique experiment on a patient to see if he can halt the man’s post-traumatic stress dreams and episodes; the device is supposed to erase these memories.

But then another terrorist attack takes place, destroying most of the White House, just as Singh begins his experiment.  The EM pulse hits and something very strange happens to all the people located within a certain distance of this device.  They begin having memories; only not their own, but other people’s memories all within this specific area.  It begins a chain of events that will eventually affect every person on the entire planet.

In Triggers, Robert J. Sawyer should first be applauded for a wonderfully diverse cast, as readers are immediately introduced to a powerful female secret service agent, an impressive African-American female doctor who is the president’s primary physician, and the interesting Dr. Singh, who is actually Canadian, which is Sawyer’s own nationality.  The book juggles an impressive cast of characters, which Sawyer does excellent job of keeping both straight and complex.  The weak point of the book to some will be the ending, nevertheless, it is a powerful novel that plays around with some great science fiction, but ultimately explores the lives of a number of interesting people and how they would react in a given situation, if they started sharing each other’s memories and thoughts.

Originally written on March 17, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

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