Cover of the Hardback edition.
Author Robert J. Sawyer
Country United States/Canada
Language English
Genre Science fiction novel
Publisher Tor Books
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and paperback)
Pages 320pp
OCLC 41035395
813/.54 21
LC Class PR9199.3.S2533 F58 1999

Flashforward is a science fiction novel by Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer first published in 1999. The novel is set in 2009. At CERN, the Large Hadron Collider accelerator is performing a run to search for the Higgs boson. The experiment has a unique side effect; the entire human race loses their consciousness for about two minutes. During that time, nearly everyone sees themselves roughly twenty-one years and six months in the future. Each individual experiences the future through the senses of his or her future self. This "flashforward" results in countless deaths and accidents involving vehicles, aircraft, and any other device needing human control at the time of the experiment. The novel inspired the 2009 television series FlashForward.

Plot summary

The protagonist is Lloyd Simcoe, a 45-year-old Canadian particle physicist. He works with his fiancée Michiko, who has a daughter, Tamiko. Another researcher and friend is Theo Procopides.

The fallout from the flashforward occupies much of the first part of the book. The consequences include the death of Michiko's daughter as an out-of-control vehicle plows into her school. Oddly, no recording devices anywhere in the world functioned in the present during the event. Security camera tapes show noise and even recording devices in television studios show nothing until the event is over. One character interprets this as evidence in support of the observer effect in quantum theory. With the awareness of the entire human race absent, "reality" went into a state of indeterminacy. When the awareness returned, reality collapsed into its most likely configuration, which was one in which moving objects had careened out of control in the direction they were already headed.

The deaths of several characters are forecast by the flashforward. Anyone who did not experience it is assumed to be dead in the future. This includes Theo Procopides. Some people report reading about his murder in the future. However as time goes by it seems that the events of the future are not predestined. Some people, depressed by their visions of their own dismal futures, commit suicide, thereby changing those futures. The story begins to take on the features of a murder mystery, as Theo attempts to prevent his own murder. His brother Dimitrios, who aspired to be a writer but saw himself just working in a restaurant in the future, is one of the suicides.

At CERN, less than two months after the original flashforward, the scientists plan a repeat of the run, but this time warning the world of the exact time, so that preparations can be made. However, no flashforward occurs, and the LHC instead finds the Higgs boson; what the experiment was originally designed to produce.

Soon after this discovery, the riddle of the flashforward is solved. At the same time as the LHC was running, a pulse of neutrinos arrived from the remnant of supernova 1987A. The remnant is not a neutron star, but a quark star, a superdense body of strange matter. Starquakes cause it to emit a neutrino pulse at unpredictable intervals. As the date of everyone's visions approaches, a satellite is launched into an orbit close to that of Pluto, from where it can give several days warning of another neutrino pulse arriving. The neutrinos travel slower than light, since they have mass, and thus a radio message (though the book uses the notion of "faster-than-light communication" involving tachyons) from the satellite will arrive at Earth before the neutrinos do. The intent is to run the LHC again and create another flashforward.

Philosophical and scientific issues discussed

The novel discusses free will and determinacy, the Copenhagen interpretation, Transactional interpretation and the Omega Point. The latter is put in a Christian context, through the character of Cheung, the rich Christian capitalist who finances the immortality project. In a "NewsFlash" in the novel, Pope Benedict XVI - a reference which proved prescient since Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, six years after the novel was written, and was the serving pope in 2009 - reserves judgement on whether the Flashforward was a miracle or not.

TV adaptation

The FlashForward television series based loosely on the novel aired on ABC between September 24, 2009 and May 27, 2010. It differs from the novel by following non-scientists, including lead characters FBI Special Agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes), Special Agent Demetri Noh (John Cho), and an FBI team investigating the Flashforward. The adaptation also changes the blackout time from under two minutes to two minutes and seventeen seconds, as well as the flashforward moving consciousness six months forward, not twenty-one years; time progresses normally during the event, and security cameras capture footage of people blacked out for the full time period. A character named Lloyd Simcoe does appear. However, he only partly resembles the character in the novel.

The story was also changed from taking place primarily in Geneva, Switzerland, (at and around the CERN facility), to the United States, primarily Los Angeles, California. Also, the flashforward event was portrayed as a terrorist attack, as opposed to the result of unforeseen circumstances.

External links