“Flashback” by Dan Simmons (Reagan Arthur, 2011)

Flashback
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It seems like the bestselling and award winner author, Dan Simmons, used up a lot of his talent and ability with the truly fantastic The Terror, and almost as good Drood, and in the meantime has been publishing sub-par work that fans and readers of his have come to expect to be otherwise.  Black Hills was an atrocious story that seemed to get lost in itself; while Flashback is a definite improvement on its predecessor, yet it still has a lot to be desired as a science fiction novel, especially when coming from the mind of such a talented author.

In Flashback, the United States is on the brink of collapse, but the citizens of America don’t care because 87% of them are addicted to a drug known as “flashback,” that when taken allows users to travel back into their past and memories and live specific moments over and over in excruciating detail, to the point where it is almost as if the memory were reality.  Nick Bottom used to be a detective, a good one, and then his wife was killed in a car crash, and now he’s been fired and is addicted to flashback like so many others, reliving moments with the love of his life.  But Bottom was a good cop and one rich man knows that, and is employing him one last time to investigate the murder of a top governmental advisor’s son, because Bottom remembers the time of the murder and will need to use flashback to remember some important details to see if he can find out just who this murderer is.

While Flashback seems like a vaguely interesting science fiction premise, and Simmons tries for a quasi-noire story in down and out Nick Bottom, the big problem is that this storyline and construct has been done and overdone in some way or shape or form numerous time in the genre and through various mediums: William Gibson did it with Neuromancer, Neal Stephenson did it with Snow Crash, Phillip K. Dick did it with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (made renowned by the movie version, Blade Runner), Richard K. Morgan is another author who uses this construct.  Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a distracting obstruction if Flashback was written by a middling author, or even a new one; but to have it written by a man whom many have come to expect truly great and original and astounding novels from . . . it leaves one feeling disappointed to say the least.  Here’s hoping Simmons novel in 2012, whatever it might be, is a big improvement, or the man may begin dropping fans like a person suffering severe leprosy drops digits and eventual limbs.

Originally written on September 21, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“The Terror” by Dan Simmons (Little, Brown and Company, 2007)

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In a historical epic that rivals Simmons’s science fiction epic Hyperion, The Terror is the incredible fictional story of the journey made by Captain Sir John Franklin and his expedition to discover the northwest passage, which departed from England in 1845.  Written mainly from the viewpoint of Captain Francis Crozier, who runs the crew on the ship HMS Terror (Franklin is in charge of HMS Erebus), The Terror will take readers to the very limits of their imaginations, tactile abilities, and hopes and dreams; leaving them exhausted but very satisfied by the end.

The story begins with both ships trapped in the ice.  Simmons overloads with description of this frozen wasteland which is an everyday struggle, as the crews fight to keep warm, fed, and the boilers in the ships running, otherwise they’ll all freeze to death very quickly.  The men try to make the most of it, even having a masked ball on the ice in mimicry of Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.”  Then there is the decreasing citrus stock, with the full realization that cases of scurvy will begin very soon.  But everything is still frozen, even though it is summer and there seems little hope left for them.  Crozier seems to know this, taking heavily to what alcohol there is on Terror and keeping it for himself, as his grasp on reality lessens a little each day.

Then there is the monster.  A terrifying beast that has been taking and killing men, leaving nothing but bloody smears on the white ice.  The beast matches descriptions of a giant bear, an abominable snowman, and possibly a nightmare from an Inuit folk tale.  But little can be done as the men continue to disappear one by one.  Franklin eventually abandons the Erebus which has stopped working, while some of its crew have turned violent and insane.  But they cannot all stay on Terror, and the decision is eventually made to venture into the icy waste in a presumed direction to an Inuit habitation.  Whether they will make it through or all die of exposure is a reality that will be faced each day they travel further across the ice.

Simmons takes on a classic legend that has few facts and turns it into an incredible story of adventure, survival, and testing the very limits of humanity.  He has outdone himself with his complex, complete characters, interesting plot developments and subplots, and skillfully balancing the fantastic fiction with the true story, giving possible answers to one of the greatest mysteries in history.  The Terror is a book not for the faint of heart, but for those who seek to know what it is that keeps the human spirit going when all hope is lost; this is the book for you.  Especially if you have a thing for cannibalism.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on January 10th 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Dan Simmons check out BookBanter Episode 4.