Saturday, February 20, 2010

Seeing the Future Ain't All it's Cracked Up to Be

by Robert J. Sawyer

Lloyd Simcoe and Theo Procopides, two physicists working for CERN, have prepared their whole lives for this moment: trying to capture the Higgs boson with a Large Hadron Collider by recreating energy levels that haven't been seen in the universe since directly after the Big Bang. But when they start the experiment, their consciousnesses move forward twenty-one years into the future for a brief minute or two before returning to the present. The loss of consciousness has dire consequences, as people who were driving crash and people who saw a future they dislike lose hope. In the aftermath, the scientists at CERN realize that everyone in the universe experienced something similar, and no one - including them - are quite sure why.

Flashforward takes a common question of humanity and literature, "What would you do if you could see your future?" and investigates it from a science-y point of view. Can the future be changed, or is it as immutable as the past? Does free will exist? Since the characters are physicists, you know their answer is going to be pretty heady, and I was grateful for the science nonfiction I'd read last year or their discussions would have been even further over my head. Lest this sounds like a slog, let me assure you that the reading is generally fast-paced, a good blend of mystery and very human characters that kept me reading even if I didn't always understand things like the Minkowski principle and what not. (Actually, that sounds a good bit like watching Lost...) The book is set in 2009, which I had to remember was ten years in the future when the book was originally written, but I had fun "spotting the differences" between last year and how Sawyer imagined things might be. An entertaining read, and recommended if you don't mind (or can comprehend) the physics theories and discussions.

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