It was a spooky experience, reading this book. Not because of its inherent scariness (though there’s plenty of that), but because I started reading Flashback just about the time President Obama signed his nuclear arms deal with Iran, and finished it in the aftermath of the Chattanooga terrorist killings.
Both events resonated with this story.
In the world of Flashback (which might be compared to the world I envision at the end of my novel Death’s Doors, but more fully realized), the United States still exists, but barely. Texas has seceded, and the Nuevo Mexican Reconquista has torn away other southwestern states. Order in the US is maintained by several Japanese corporations, and American soldiers fight as mercenaries in various world conflicts, the major source of what’s left of US federal revenue. Israel no longer exists, and the Islamic Caliphate is on the march world-wide.
Most Americans don’t even care. They are addicted to a new drug called Flashback, which enables its users to experience their happiest memories in full detail.
Nick Bottom (same name as the character in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream), is a Flashback addict. He will lie, steal, and betray his friends in order to get a little more of the drug, so he can spend time again with his beloved wife.
He used to be a top detective with the Denver police department, but after his wife’s death he descended into addiction, sending his young son to live with a grandfather in Los Angeles.
Then one day he gets an offer too good to refuse. The Japanese “protector” of Denver promises to pay him well to learn who murdered his own son several years ago. At first Nick, junky that he is, tries to take the money, buy Flashback, and hide away, but these people are smarter than he is. Eventually he begins to take a real interest in the mystery. Then he discovers the puzzle is closer to home than he imagined. Then he begins to care about other people, including the son he abandoned.
Flashback is a long book, but it sucked me in. It’s splendidly crafted, with artful allusions and foreshadowings. It provides a frightening picture of the near future that’s all the more disturbing for its plausibility. And there’s a twist at the end that genuinely scared me.
Cautions are in order, mostly for language and violence. It’s a peculiarity of this book that Christianity seems hardly to exist anymore. I sometimes wondered if the Rapture had happened, but I saw no hint that author Simmons had that in mind.