Robert J. Sawyer: Flashforward (2000, Tor Book) 4 stars

Robert J. Sawyer's award-winning science fiction has garnered both popular and critical acclaim. The New …

What if the whole world knew its future?

5 stars

At the moment a scientific experiment begins, everyone on the planet blacks out for two minutes. For those two minutes, everyone sees through the eyes of their future selves, two decades down the line. The world is transformed: first by the millions of accidents caused as drivers, pilots and surgeons lost control of their vehicles and instruments, and second by the survivors’ knowledge of the future.

What follows is an exploration of the nature of time, destiny and free will. Is this a glimpse of the future as it will be, or as it may be? Did the experiment cause the event, or was it a coincidence? Is foreknowledge a blessing or a curse?

Flashforward is at its best when it focuses on characters’ dilemmas. The novel centers on the personal lives of researchers at CERN, particularly the two scientists who designed the experiment: Lloyd Simcoe, a 45-year-old Canadian who is shocked to learn that his impending marriage is doomed to collapse, and Theo Procopides, a 27-year-old Greek who learns that he will be dead by the time the visions come to pass. Lloyd wrestles with his responsibility for the event and whether it’s worth going through with a marriage he knows won’t last. Theo is consumed with preemptively solving his own murder.

Occasionally it stumbles into telling, rather than showing, as when presenting the view of the next twenty years worked out by correlating thousands’ of people’s visions, or when presenting a debate at the United Nations. And it does take a strange turn at one point that reminded me of Robert Charles Wilson’s novel, Darwinia.

Most of the book, though, is an enjoyable look at the different ways that people, organizations, and even nations might react to learning their future.