Monday, July 25, 2011

Book Think: Flashback

I have decided to try doing some book “reviews” here. I use the term “review” loosely as these posts will mainly deal with my thoughts and feelings about the book/author, and are more of an articulation of my state of mind rather than a breakdown of plot, style, or technique. Therefore, these "reviews" should be taken with a boulder-sized grain of sodium (try your local Costco!).

By Dan Simmons

Oh, how I love me some Dan Simmons. The man is a badass author and a wonderful source of information on the craft of writing. If you haven’t been to his website and checked out the “Writing Well” essays there, I suggest you strap on your rocket-shoes, light the fuse, and go peruse the news straight from the muse. What have you got to lose? (Ok, I’m done now. But seriously, go check it out:, lots of scholarly goodness there.)

First things first, I really liked the novel. I wanted to love it, but there was one major element that prevented me from being able to give my heart, freshly excised and still beating, to the story.

The setting.

Well, not so much the setting as the explanation for the setting. Stay with me here…

Flashback is a dystopian novel set in an America ripped straight from one of Glenn Beck’s masturbatory fantasies. And therein, for me, lies the problem. You see, America isn’t all double-rainbows and LOLCats anymore. It’s a fucked up place where Islam is the dominant religion (the Qur’an is taught in public schools), Japan has “advisors” governing different areas of the country, Israel has been reduced to a radioactive slurry (mainly because the USA failed, or was unable, to act), the US army has been pimped out to fight for the highest bidder (this is the only steady source of income for the country and service is mandatory upon reaching the age of 17), and most major American cities resemble downtown Baghdad circa 2003.

The reason for the sorry state of the States? America has defaulted on its debt—which is kind of eerie considering the subject matter of the national dialogue right now—because, A) China, who owns most of our debt, collapsed into civil war and called in all of the outstanding loans, and B) Liberals!

Point B is what kept tripping me up throughout the book, and honestly, it probably had more to do with me than the story. It was like getting a piece of gristle stuck in my molars on the first bite of an otherwise delicious steak. It's only a small part, and if it had gone down with the rest of the medium-rare goodness I wouldn’t be complaining, but it didn’t. It got stuck there. And the fact that I was being distracted the entire time by that one annoying bit detracted from the whole experience.

There are two sections in the novel that go into detail explaining the reasons for the financial collapse. Both of them stress the American people’s dependence on entitlement programs (welfare, social security, unemployment, universal health care…) as the reason for the USA’s monetary bed-shitting. That coupled with a few other premises (border security, Islamaphobia, nuclear arms reduction, renewable energy…) made me feel like the book was saying to me, “See, see! Look what your bleeding-heart-liberal-agenda did to our great and powerful nation!”

All of the terrible shit that happened to America seems to be filtered through this lens of right wing, worse-case-scenario talking points, which is why I say it’s set in some sort of Glenn Beckian post-apocalyptic masturbatory fantasy. Not because I believe that Glen spanks it to visions of a country in ruins due to every paranoid racist thought that enters his brain, but because he would probably blow ten loads into the front of his Ronald Reagan Underoos at the thought of cavorting around such a landscape gleefully shouting “I told you so!”

I guess what I’m saying is, it bothered me that the circumstances surrounding America’s demise seemed like an affirmation of all the fire and brimstone, scare-the-shit-out-of-you, doomsday scenarios coming from über-conservatives these days. Because, you know, fuck them*.

This is also why I say the problem isn’t with the book, it’s with me. It’s not the author’s fault that I can’t get off my ideological hobby horse long enough to let that shit go and love the story for the story. Noo. I have to get all butt-hurt because in this fictional world the people I disagree with were right all along. Ye gods, I am pathetic.

My own personal bullshit aside, Flashback is a really good read. Nestled within this wonderfully realized, third-world America is a well crafted mystery/thriller, with lots of intrigue, car chases, gunfights, double-crosses, and a pretty sweet ending-within-an-ending (of which I choose to believe the more tragic because, to me, it just felt more right).

I give Flashback by Dan Simmons three George Taylors and half a Statue of Liberty.

*Seriously, fuck em. Right in the ear.

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