Cover of the Hardback edition.
|Author||Robert J. Sawyer|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and paperback)|
|Dewey Decimal||813/.54 21|
|LC Class||PR9199.3.S2533 F58 1999|
Flashforward is a science fiction novel by Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer first published in 1999. The novel is set in 2009. At CERN, the Large Hadron Collider accelerator is performing a run to search for the Higgs boson. The experiment has a unique side effect: the entire human race loses consciousness for about two minutes. During that time, nearly everyone sees themselves roughly twenty-one years and six months in the future. Each individual experiences the future through the senses of his or her future self. This "flashforward" results in countless deaths and accidents involving vehicles, aircraft, and any other device needing human control at the time of the experiment. The novel inspired the 2009 television series FlashForward.
The protagonist is Lloyd Simcoe, a 45-year-old Canadian particle physicist. He works with his fiancée Michiko, who has a daughter, Tamiko. Another researcher and friend is Theo Procopides.
The fallout from the flashforward occupies much of the first part of the book. The consequences include the death of Michiko's daughter as an out-of-control vehicle plows into her school. Oddly, no recording devices anywhere in the world functioned in the present during the event. Security camera tapes show noise and even recording devices in television studios show nothing until the event is over. One character interprets this as evidence in support of the observer effect in quantum theory. With the awareness of the entire human race absent, "reality" went into a state of indeterminacy. When the awareness returned, reality collapsed into its most likely configuration, which was one in which moving objects had careened out of control in the direction they were already headed.
The deaths of several characters are forecast by the flashforward. Anyone who did not experience it is assumed to be dead in the future. This includes Theo Procopides. Some people report reading about his murder in the future. However as time goes by it seems that the events of the future are not predestined. Some people, depressed by their visions of their own dismal futures, commit suicide, thereby changing those futures. The story begins to take on the features of a murder mystery, as Theo attempts to prevent his own murder. His brother Dimitrios, who aspired to be a writer but saw himself just working in a restaurant in the future, is one of the suicides.
At CERN, less than two months after the original flashforward, the scientists plan a repeat of the run, but this time warning the world of the exact time, so that preparations can be made. However, no flashforward occurs, and the LHC instead finds the Higgs boson; what the experiment was originally designed to produce.
Soon after this discovery, the riddle of the flashforward is solved. At the same time as the LHC was running, a pulse of neutrinos arrived from the remnant of supernova 1987A. The remnant is not a neutron star, but a quark star, a superdense body of strange matter. Starquakes cause it to emit a neutrino pulse at unpredictable intervals. As the date of everyone's visions approaches, a satellite is launched into an orbit close to that of Pluto, from where it can give several days warning of another neutrino pulse arriving. The neutrinos travel slower than light, since they have mass, and thus a radio message (though the book uses the notion of "faster-than-light communication" involving tachyons) from the satellite will arrive at Earth before the neutrinos do. The intent is to run the LHC again and create another flashforward.
Twenty-one years after the original flashforward, the satellite sends an alert to Earth; another neutrino burst is approaching. CERN was mostly abandoned several years earlier, and there is a mad rush to prepare the near-defunct LHC on time. Many of the original builders and operators have since deceased, and Theo is one of the few staff still at CERN. Informed of a fault with some equipment in the collider tunnel, he heads down to repair it, and discovers a fanatic attempting to sabotage the experiment, blaming the LHC staff for his wife's death in the first flashforward. In a chase sequence through the tunnels containing the LHC equipment, Theo is able to stop this, preventing his own murder in the process.
It turns out that the neutrino pulse arrives on the exact day which everyone flashed forward to, at the exact time. The world stops and rests at the appointed hour, and exactly as predicted, everyone blacks out. However, this time around the blackout is for approximately one hour, and it is reported that no one experienced any vision at all. Simcoe — now retired, divorced and re-married — is confused, as he experienced a vision of himself moving through time for billions of years via a succession of neutrino bursts. He observes his consciousness persisting in different artificial bodies. He is aware of another person being with him in some of these situations.
When the event is over, there is general puzzlement over why nothing happened. Simcoe comes to realize that the effect connects two periods of quantum disturbance occurring within the lifetimes of the individuals involved. Since there will be no more neutrino bursts in the lifetimes of any living people, nobody experiences a flashforward, except for those who are secretly associated with an immortality project controlled by the person Simcoe sees in his second flashforward. In particular, living Nobel laureates are being offered the chance to participate. However, it is unclear whether or not Simcoe accepts the treatment, depending upon the interpretation of "forgetfulness" he describes to his wife. It is implied that Theo will be offered the treatment as well. The novel ends with Theo contacting Michiko, Simcoe's ex-wife at this point, in the hopes of kindling a romance he has considered for over twenty years.
Philosophical and scientific issues discussed
The novel discusses free will and determinacy, the Copenhagen interpretation, Transactional interpretation and the Omega Point. The latter is put in a Christian context, through the character of Cheung, the rich Christian capitalist who finances the immortality project. In a "NewsFlash" in the novel, Pope Benedict XVI (who was pope when the novel takes place, but not when it was written) reserves judgement on whether the Flashforward was a miracle or not.
The FlashForward television series based loosely on the novel aired on ABC between September 24, 2009 and May 27, 2010. It differs from the novel by following non-scientists, including lead characters FBI Special Agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes), Special Agent Demetri Noh (John Cho), and an FBI team investigating the Flashforward. The adaptation also changes the blackout time from under two minutes to two minutes and seventeen seconds, as well as the flashforward moving consciousness six months forward, not twenty-one years; time progresses normally during the event, and security cameras capture footage of people blacked out for the full time period. A character named Lloyd Simcoe does appear. However, he only partly resembles the character in the novel.
The story was also changed from taking place primarily in Geneva, Switzerland, (at and around the CERN facility), to the United States, primarily Los Angeles, California. Also, the flashforward event was portrayed as a terrorist attack, as opposed to the result of unforeseen circumstances.