Thursday, September 20, 2012

Painful Flashback

Dan Simmons' book Flashback is a vision right out of Mitt Romney's 47 percent talk.

Simmons, a successful and well-regarded science fiction author, disconcerted fans with the release of Flashback in 2011. It takes place in the western U.S. around 2030, when every dystopian belief of the Right has come true, including the falsity of global warming, the rise of a global Caliphate and sharia law, multiculturalism run amok in failing schools, and incessant terrorist attacks that have destroyed the interstate highway system and other infrastructure.

The United States government of Flashback is beyond broke because dependent deadbeats -- Romney's 47 percent -- elect Democrats to fund their perpetual feed at the public trough. Their laziness is compounded by a fictional drug called flashback, which lets users experience any time from their pasts as if it were completely real. And so millions of people spend their days strung out on the memories. (The biggest suspension of disbelief required in the whole story is the idea that there could be a drug that would let us relive our pasts in such complete sensory detail. Has Simmons kept up with any current research on how memory works?)

The book includes a police procedural plot and a mystery to solve, of course, mixed in with an homage to Phillip Dick, but none of that is as important as the central theme of a country destroyed by rot from within.

The book faced scathing reviews, and it's pretty easy to see why. It's full of casually racist language, every stereotype you can imagine, bizarre political claims, and more conspiracies than a Glenn Beck show.

I felt sick the whole time I was reading it. And even more, I wondered how Simmons came to write it. I've read several of his other books (which all took place in a far future), and had no inkling that this was his world view.

Simmons is on record as saying that Flashback does not, in fact, present his world view. He describes it as expressing the feeling he had as a young college student when his parents were both diagnosed with cancer and died within six months of each other. He wrote that the book
"share[s] the dawning perception of a nineteen-year-old...that my younger brother... and I, the remnants of what had been a fairly happy family, were flat broke, jobless, and seemingly without a viable future. None of my story of this is in Flashback, per se, yet it's all there behind the book. The emotions are there. And some three hundred and seventy-five million Americans experience that feeling in Flashback."
It's a bit enigmatic, but after enduring the pain that is Flashback, I think the book is supposed to give the reader the buried-alive, all-hope-is-lost feeling the teenaged Simmons felt.

After all, what could be worse than if people like Michelle Bachmann and the Florida-fundraiser version of Mitt Romney were right about everything?

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