On April 21st 2009, particle physicist Lloyd Simcoe and his partner Theo Procopides initiated an experiment two years in the making – they were attempting to collide two particles in order to recreate for a nanosecond the power that initiated the Big Bang. Instead they, and everyone inside the Large Hadron Collider passed out for almost two minutes. For Lloyd the time passed with an extraordinarily vivid and disturbing hallucination of being in bed with an elderly woman; he awoke as abruptly as he’d passed out, to discover injuries ranging from bloody noses to limb fractures.
Only when his fiancée, engineer Michiko Komura, rang the ambulance service, she brought back devastating news. Everyone in Geneva had also been affected, and there was no knowing how many were dead. Over the next few hours it became evident that every conscious person on earth had lost consciousness for almost two minutes, and most of them had also experienced vivid hallucinations.
It didn’t take people long to realise that there was consistency between hallucinations. And from there to discover that, rather than hallucinations, the experiences were glimpses of a future twenty one and a half years into the future. For Theo, who had no hallucination but saw only blackness for the two minute event, this discovery is devastating – if quickly becomes evident that those who saw nothing have died in the intervening time. And when a woman calls him from Johannesburg to say that her vision included reading a newspaper account of his murder, Theo is filled with purpose. He is determined to find his killer and prevent his death.
Now a television series, Flashforward is one of Sawyer’s most compelling novels. While it retains many of his trademark elements, including crystalline, accessible writing, and meta themes about spirituality, the nature of consciousness, and explorations of interpersonal relationships, Flashforward is also a mystery, an examination of obsession and self preservation, and a confronting picture of how future knowledge affects the present.
First published in 1999, Sawyer includes a potted history of the future that reminded me of Halperin’s predictions – it includes the fate of the British royal family (Elizabeth II dies in 2017, the throne bypasses a now-balmy Prince Charles, and is renounced by Prince William, forcing parliament to dissolve the monarchy), and that the US President in 2030 is black, with a woman to yet hold the most powerful position on earth (an interesting forecast nine years before Barak Obama’s election success), among other information ranging from ecological and conservation data to the state of science and fashion.
I stopped watching the series a couple of episodes in, in no small part because of the deviation in the premise from the novel, which I fondly remembered but had been unable to find and re read (thanks again to the marvellous Boorondara library service). Having read it again I think I’d now be interested in seeing how the adaptation plays out, but suspect it won’t be as strong and involving as the novel that inspired it – Alex