For a moment everything was clear…

For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.” – S. King

Flashforward – book review

Many people stopped Lloyd on his way back; it seemed there was a new theory being put forth every few minutes and old ones being shot down just as frequently.

I’ve lost myself in non-fiction books recently. So much so that finally I decided that enough was enough and that I should make sure I read at least one more novel before 2017 flashed away before my eyes.

In my first year of University (2009) the TV series of Flashforward came out and received a lot of initial praise, although I have a feeling that was short-lived. I watched the first episode but never took it any further.

So, let me see if I understand you, Dr. Simcoe. You’re contending that the visions aren’t of just one possible future. Rather, they are of the future – the only one that exists.

Flash forward some 8 years and, when I searched my mind for a novel I wanted to read, ‘Flashforward’ came stirring out of an archive of memories to the top – I’m not quite sure why.

It has an intriguing plot. In a nutshell, the world completely stops for a period of 2 minutes and everyone passes out. During this time everyone has a vision of their life some 20+ years into the future. Some startling, some happy.

There seems to be a lot of supporting evidence from other people’s visions that you really are dead in 2030, Theo.

Lloyd Simcoe and Theo Procopides are two scientists who were carrying out a huge experiment at the time – many believe (including the men themselves) that their experiment had somehow inadvertently caused this slip in the window of time.

While some of the narrative follows Theo and Lloyd – there’s also a lot of time dedicated to how the world would react to an unexpected glimpse of the future. Businesses go bankrupt, insurance companies fold and some of the population even commit suicide as they realise that they’ll never reach their dreams.

But the fact that he was dead altered everything.

Before the vision Lloyd was fully intent on marrying fellow scientist, Michiko – but, in the vision, he sees himself happily married to another woman. Which leaves him in a moral dilemma. Even though he loves her, is it worth marrying someone who you know you won’t end up with?

But…the bigger question that underpins Lloyd’s worries…can the vision of the future that they’ve seen be stopped, or is it unavoidable?

His eyes looked into the mirror as he passed, and he saw himself…for a half-second he thought it was his father. But it was him. What hair was left on his head was entirely gray; that on his chest was white. His skin was loose and lined, his gait stooped…

My favourite character was Theo and his story is by far the most fascinating. He doesn’t actually have a vision. Which, he concludes, means that he’ll be dead – even though he’ll only be 48 at the proposed time in the future!

But, things take a further turn for Theo, when he is contacted by some randoms who tell him that, in their visions, they were reading newspaper clippings about his murder!

Theo had once read a Lord Dunsany story about a man who fervently wished to see tomorrow’s newspaper today, and when he finally got his wish, was stunned to discover it contained his own obituary. The shock of seeing that was enough to kill him, news which would of course be reported in the next day’s edition.

What follows is a cracking subplot where the, ever-so-slightly selfish, Theo tries to find out any clues he can to prevent his murder from happening. But, as with Lloyd’s problem, is the future fixed or can it be changed?

This may sound obvious, as it is a science fiction piece, but there’s a lot of science here. Lots of models and theories. They’re easy enough to follow and I understand why they’re there…but they do bog down the narrative in places.

I didn’t tell you everything, Frau Drescher. I…twenty-one years from now, I’m dead. And your son, Helmut Drescher, is a detective with the Geneva police. He’s investigating my murder

What gets me about this novel, and what was most compelling, was the idea of Theo racing around the world interviewing random people whose visions may help him found out who his murderer is set to be.

As a stand alone story, without the rest of it, this would have been a great idea.

Book review – ‘Absolute Power’ by David Baldacci

“…the business of politics, which essentially meant screwing others before they got around to screwing you.” 

For a recent holiday I wanted a good thriller book to read. After reading lots of non-fiction business books and lots of philosophical novels recently, I wanted something that wasn’t quite as intellectually challenging. Something that was more plot than unanswered questions.

I settled on Absolute Power because the reviews were really positive, and I’ve heard the Clint Eastwood film is fairly good.

In terms of plot Absolute Power is very outrageous to say the least. An elderly burglar, looking for one last job, breaks into the house of a prominent businessman while he’s out of the country. Everything is going well until the businessman’s wife turns up…with her lover and his entourage.

The thief manages to hide and, within minutes, is forced to watch the woman’s final moments as she’s murdered. Shocking, to say the least. But the only thing more shocking is the man involved in her murder…the president of the United States.

“Arrogant people habitually overestimated their own abilities and underestimated everyone else’s.”

This tense and violent opening chapter sets the scene for a tale full of conspiracies, tragedies and surprises.

It also contains sub-plots. A lot of them. From my description of the plot, you might think that the thief is the main character. But he’s not, in fact he has very little actual dialogue throughout the novel – which is something of a shame as, despite his flaws, he’s one of the more likeable characters.

That’s perhaps one of the main issues with Absolute Power. There’s a very large cast of characters. Too many. All with their own sub-plots and backstories. Baladacci does a great job of developing them, but he gives them all so much time that, after a while, I was left wondering who the actual protagonist was. My favourite being the smalltown detective who ended up investigating the murder and getting well and truly out of his depth.

“He should have known that nature bowed to no one, regardless of their monetary worth.”

Eventually Jack, a young hotshot lawyer, becomes the main ‘good guy’ – but, even then, he spends most of the book trying to cheat on his fiancee while still trying to keep her sweet as her dad is a big shot client of his. Not exactly a great guy…but flawed protagonists are more realistic, right?

I described ‘Absolute Power’ as a thriller in the start of this review. But, to be honest, it’s a real mix of genres – thriller is just the easiest way to categorise it. It also has elements of courtroom drama, police procedural, political commentary, action, spy thriller and conspiracy theory.

Absolute Power starts off really well and keeps its pace for the first quarter – however, the amount of sub plots and characters do slow it down halfway. But it’s worth persevering through as the last quarter is really engaging and gripping stuff.

“You know what kind of person it takes to run for President? Not normal. They could start out okay, but by the time they reach that level they’ve sold their soul to the devil so many times and stomped the guts out of enough people that they are definitely not like you and me, not even close.”

While the plot is very imaginative, there’s also a sense of realism to it. I genuienly found myself thinking that…if such a cover-up ever did happen…this is probably what would happen.

I’ll give this a 4/5 for sheer entertainment value. It’s not going to change your life but sometimes that’s not what you want from a book. I don’t think I’ll ever read it again and, five years from now, it won’t be in my thoughts but for the time that I shared with it I enjoyed it.

 

Book review – ‘How to stop time’ by Matt Haig.

“You just close your eyes and let every futile fear slip away. And then, in this new state, free from fear, you ask yourself: who am I? If I could live without doubt what would I do?” 

I got this as a birthday present from my girlfriend – she knew I liked books about time travel, and I have to say this novel completely took me by surprise. I’d never heard of Matt Haig before, either – which is a real shame.

It’s not strictly about time travel in the conventional sense, but it’s close to it in subject matter. The novels I tend to read are usually fast-paced, adventure-driven pieces – but this…well…this is something completely different.

A brooding, thoughtful book that muses on some of life’s big questions. It unfolds at its own, dream-like pace and constantly flits between the past and the present. The chapters are very short, which gives it a promiscuous readability – you know the feeling, ‘ohh just one more chapter then I’ll go to bed…they’re only short’.

“Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don’t expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.” 

The story centres around Tom Hazard. He looks 40, but he’s actually over 400 years old. He doesn’t look younger because he uses the kind of moisturisers that David Beckham advertises, he looks younger because he has a rare condition that causes his body to age a lot slower.

We join Tom as he starts work as a history teacher in an East London school. As you can imagine, such a long lifespan has left him with more than a few issues – such as constant headaches, a missing daughter and weird interactions with a secret society who are determined to keep the condition a secret.

““It made me lonely. And when I say lonely, I mean the kind of loneliness that howls through you like a desert wind.” 

‘How to stop time’ plays out as a historical drama mostly, almost like a series of memoirs put together by the ever thoughtful Tom. There is a subplot that plays out as a bit of a thriller, but it’s almost like it was added in as an afterthought – just to add a bit of action into things.

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(Sure, social media gets a lot of bad press – but it’s a genuinely nice feeling to be able to tweet an author and give them some live feedback on their work)

Having said that, it worked and it fitted in nicely with the story – mixing genres is always a tough balancing act, but I feel that Matt Haig has pulled it off here.

““It was like being stuck in the same song, with a chorus you had once liked but now made you want to your ears off.” 

The last novel I read before this was Stephen King’s 11/22/63 – there are parallels between the two. Both talk about the rhythm of time and how, after a while, you can almost predict the future based on what happens in the past.

The difference is King is a much older man than Haig, so I could see why he’d be able to talk with such insight about the passing of time, yet Haig manages to be just as philosophical and measured.

I recommend this – 5/5 for me.