Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Flashback by Dan Simmons
Little, Brown & Company, 2011
Hardcover, 560 pages
ISBN-13: 9780316006965

The United States is near total collapse. But 87% of the population doesn't care: they're addicted to flashback, a drug that allows its users to re-experience the best moments of their lives. After ex-detective Nick Bottom's wife died in a car accident, he went under the flash to be with her; he's lost his job, his teenage son, and his livelihood as a result. Nick may be a lost soul but he's still a good cop, so he is hired to investigate the murder of a top governmental advisor's son. This flashback-addict becomes the one man who may be able to change the course of an entire nation turning away from the future to live in the past. A provocative novel set in a future that seems scarily possible, FLASHBACK proves why Dan Simmons is one of our most exciting and versatile writers.

My Thoughts:
In Flashback, a dystopian novel by Dan Simmons, many current citizens in a future, fracture United States take flashback, a drug that allows users to revisit past memories in real time as an unseen observer. Former Denver police officer Nick Bottom, is among the citizens addicted to flashback. Rather than living in the present after his wife's death he sent his son to live in L.A. with his father-in-law and is taking flashback to re-live happier times with his wife. Now Nick is out of funds and needs to take on a case as a private investigator in order to earn money to feed his addiction.

Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Nakamura hires Nick to investigate the murder of his son, Keigo. The crime was never solved and Nick was one of the officers involved in the investigation six years earlier... before his wife's death and the onset of his flashback addiction. While Nick is just looking for a way to score some more flashback and re-live memories with his wife, Nakamura has other plans and has Sato, his body guard, closely follow Nick and the investigation. But, as in all good mysteries, everything is not quite what it seems to be.

Flashback is part science fiction, part murder mystery, and should appeal to fans of both genres. It is a long novel, 560 pages, but I thought the action in Flashback made the novel move along quickly. (In spite of the fact that it appears I took a long time to read it, in fact, I took a long time to get this review written.) 

I was looking forward to reading Flashback, but kept putting it off as the reviews kept rating it lower and lower. Now I know why that likely happened and why I shouldn't have waited. Simmons takes current political and economic events and projects a future based on potential outcomes from these events. Most of the low reviews are seemingly based on people upset that Simmons is blaming the current administration for everything. The thing is Simmons never names names or points fingers - he just extrapolates his future events based on current factual events.

So, what I'm trying to say is that Flashback does not deserve the bad reviews and low ratings. Plenty of other authors are allowed to take conservative or religious ideology and put their own fictional spin on outcomes. Simmons certainly deserves the same right to examine a fictional future outcome. He is also a writer who is talented enough to do it better than most.

Flashback is very well written. The characters are all well developed and believable. Simmons' insights into this future dystopian society are well reasoned and chillingly realistic. Will this future world happen? Most likely not. This is fiction. So, even if you would call yourself a liberal, set politics aside and enjoy this futurist murder mystery. If you are a student of political history who enjoys fiction do yourself a favor and read Flashback.

Obviously Flashback is very highly recommended.


Japanese Green Zone Above Denver— Friday, Sept. 10

"You're probably wondering why I asked you to come here today, Mr. Bottom," said Hiroshi Nakamura.

"No," said Nick. "I know why you brought me here."

Nakamura blinked. "You do?"

"Yeah," said Nick. He thought, *uck it. In for a penny, in for a pound. Nakamura wants to hire a detective. Show him you're a detective. "You want me to find the person or persons who killed your son, Keigo."

Nakamura blinked again but said nothing. It was as if hearing his son's name spoken aloud had frozen him in place.

The old billionaire did glance to where his squat but massive security chief, Hideki Sato, was leaning against a step-tansu near the open shoji that looked out on the courtyard garden. If Sato gave his employer any response by movement, wink, or facial expression, Nick sure as *ell couldn't see it. Come to think of it, he didn't remember having seen Sato blink during the ride up to the main house in the golf cart or during the introductions here in Nakamura's office. The security chief's eyes were obsidian marbles. opening

Nick took a breath. He'd had enough of playing by Nakamura's script.

"No, sir," he said. "Those aren't the reasons you're considering hiring me. If you hire me to investigate your son's murder, it's because I'm the only person still alive who — under flashback — can see every page of the files that were lost in the cyberattack that wiped out the DPD's entire archives five years ago."

Nick thought to himself — And it's also because I'm the only person who can, under the flash, relive every conversation with the witnesses and suspects and other detectives involved. Under flashback, I can reread the Murder Book that was lost with the files.

"If you hire me, Mr. Nakamura," Nick continued aloud, "it will be because I'm the only person in the world who can go back almost six years to see and hear and witness everything again in a murder case that's grown as cold as the bones of your son buried in your family Catholic cemetery in Hiroshima."  pg. 5-6


Nick pronounced the old acronym "buy-ought-if" the way everyone did and always had, but Nakamura's expression remained blank or passively challenging or politely curios or perhaps a combination of all three. One thing was certain to Nick: the Nipponese executive wasn't going to make any part of this interview easy.

Sato, who would have spent time on the street here in the States, didn't bother to translate it to his boss.

"Before It All Hit The Fan," Nick explained. He didn't add that the more commonly used "die-ought-if" stood for "Day It All Hit The Fan." pg. 10-11

"So your dismissal from the Denver Police Department, after a nine-month probationary period, was for flashback abuse."

"Yes," Nick realized that he was smiling at the two men for the first time. pg. 12

Today the halls of Val's high school near the Dodger Stadium Detention Center had almost as many armed guards as students in the halls, the local militias protecting the kids stupid enough still to be going to and from school, and even the damned teachers were required to pack heat and take regular target practice at the LAPD's firing range in the old Coca-Cola bottling plant off Central Ave. pg. 25

"So if I fail in this investigation -  a case you couldn't solve five years ago in eighteen months of trying at a time when the witnesses' memories and clues were fresh," he said over his shoulder to Sato, "a case you couldn't solve with twenty-seven operatives working for you, more tech than the FBI has, and Nakamura's budget of billions of dollars behind you - you're going to disembowel yourself?"
The security chief nodded and closed his eyes. pg. 41

Wednesday, May 9, 2012


Drowned by Therese Bohman
Originally published in Swedish as Den drunknade by Norstedts in 2010
Translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy
Other Press, May 22, 2012 
Paperback - 224 pages
ISBN-13:  9781590515242   

Drowned, set in the idyllic countryside during a short-lived Swedish summer, gets under one’s skin from the first page, creating an atmosphere of foreboding in which even the perfume of freshly picked vegetables roasting in the kitchen becomes ominous.
   On the surface, the story couldn’t be simpler. A single young woman visits her older sister, who is married to a writer as charismatic as he is violent. As the young woman falls under her brother-in-law’s spell, the plot unfolds in a series of precisely rendered turns. Meanwhile the reader, anticipating the worst, hopes against hope that disaster can be averted.
   More than a mere thriller, this debut novel delves deep into the feminine soul and at the same time exposes the continuing oppression of women in Sweden’s supposedly enlightened society. Mixing hothouse sensuality with ice-cold fear on every page, Drowned heralds the emergence of a major new talent on the international scene.
My Thoughts:

Drowned by Therese Bohman is a literary novel and atmospheric psychological thriller. As the description says, the basic story in Drowned  is deceptively simple. A young woman from Stockholm, Marina, visits her older sister, Stella. Stella, a horticulturist, lives in the countryside with Gabriel, a charismatic older man who is a writer. Marina finds herself attracted to Gabriel, but also seems to sense something dark and surreal about her sister's seemingly idyllic life. The novel itself is much more complex than the simple story would indicate. 

The tone of Drowned is ominous and threatening right from the start. Even though the first part of the novel is set in the summer and there is lots of talk about the heat, the garden, the flowers, I still felt a shiver up my spine. There are so many undercurrents of conflicting emotions and things left unsaid that the suspense was building as I anticipated that something was dreadfully wrong and questioned what was really happening. There are small clues carefully introduced as the novel progresses that help make the conclusion very satisfying for me.

Due to be released on May 22, 2012, I felt that this translation of Drowned done by Marlaine Delargy (who also translated The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, another novel I enjoyed), was very well written. It is a short novel that leaves a big impact. Although some readers may find the extensive descriptions exhausting to read,  I Highly Recommended it.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Other Press and Netgalley for review purposes.

(Location numbers from my Kindle are used in lieu of page numbers)

The train is exactly on time as it pulls into the platform. My whole body feels listless as I stand up and get my bag down from the luggage rack above the window. There’s something wrong with my seat, with the mechanism that’s supposed to stop the backrest when you’ve reclined it into the position you want. I’ve been pushed backwards every time the train has accelerated, and several times during the journey I have woken up and discovered that I am practically lying down. opening

She already has her own bag to carry, a brown leather purse that looks expensive. Her entire look is expensive; she’s wearing a beige skirt and a chalkwhite blouse, she looks clean and crisp, as if her clothes have been hung out to dry in the wind coming off the sea, starched by the salt in the air so they didn’t even need ironing. Small pearl studs gleam in her ears. I feel dusty, and the sweets have left a stale taste in my mouth. I would like to brush my teeth. Location 30-34

Gabriel is still busy with the salad when I get back to the kitchen, he is slicing radishes very thinly. “Your sister’s gone to get changed,” he says. I nod.
“Can I do anything?”
“No, it’s almost ready. Besides which, this is your welcome dinner . . . so all you have to do is feel welcome.” He smiles. “Can I get you anything? Something to drink?”
Suddenly I realize I’m thirsty. I should have cleaned my teeth, my mouth still feels sweet and sticky. Location 58-61

“I’ve still got a few points left from the spring semester. I haven’t done my assignment yet.”
Stella nods. “Presumably you have to do that before the start of the fall semester?”
She nods again. Location 86-87

“So how do you like living in Stockholm?” Gabriel asks.
“Not much, to be honest.”
“Neither did I.”
“You used to live in Stockholm?”
“Indeed I did. For quite a long time.”
We talk about Stockholm for a while, and I tell him about the apartment I’m renting as a sublet, the very thought of it makes me feel slightly uncomfortable as I remember its particular level of oppressive stuffiness on sunny days. Location 128-132

Suddenly Stella is standing in the doorway with a cardigan over her nightdress. “Could you turn the music down a little?” she says. “I need to get some sleep.” Her tone of voice is pleasant, but I can sense an underlying irritation. Stella isn’t as good at hiding her feelings as she thinks she is, I realized that a long time ago. I wonder if Gabriel has realized it too.
“Of course,” he says. “Sorry, darling.”
I get up from the sofa. Location 164-167 

“God, it’s so hot,” is the first thing she says. “How can you stand wearing those?” She nods in the direction of my jeans. “I’m fine.”
“Shall we see if we can find you a skirt?”
“Why not?”
I sigh, suddenly remembering how stubborn she can be, even though she doesn’t appear to notice it herself. “I’ve brought a dress with me, I just didn’t want to wear it today, that’s all.”
She nods and seems to give in. Location 184-187

I haven’t slept well even though I’ve slept late, in fact I haven’t slept well since I arrived. It’s an uneasy sleep, I wake up several times during the night, and in between I sleep so deeply that I feel disorientated when I do wake up. I think I start to dream as soon as I get into bed and close my eyes. The air in the room is bad, even though I keep the windows open all day and all evening; I think maybe there’s something in the walls, or in the foundations. Mold, something wrong. Location 203-206

I read it quickly, the way I read most things in those days, a kind of binge reading aimed at getting through as many books as possible, shoveling down as many as I could in order to tick them off against a list in my head. Perhaps it was because I didn’t have much else to do during those years; with a significant number of books behind me, I could at least feel as if I had used the time for something sensible. I have only vague memories of Gabriel’s novel but I do remember that I liked it, I remember a cloying sense of love bordering on obsession that was so well written I felt as if I had experienced it myself. Location 306-311

“They come by sometimes just to check things out. Make sure everything’s okay.”
“What do you mean, make sure everything’s okay?”
“That’s what people do in the country,” she says, sounding slightly irritated. “When it’s a long way between neighbors. You don’t have a problem with that, do you?” She looks at me, her expression challenging.
“No, of course not.” Location 322-325

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Desolation Road

Desolation Road by Ian McDonald
Prometheus Books, copyright 1988
Trade Paperback, 363 pages
ISBN-13: 9781591027447


It all began thirty years ago on Mars, with a greenperson. But by the time it all finished, the town of Desolation Road had experienced every conceivable abnormality from Adam Black's Wonderful Travelling Chautauqua and Educational 'Stravaganza (complete with its very own captive angel) to the Astounding Tatterdemalion Air Bazaar. Its inhabitants ranged from Dr. Alimantando, the town's founder and resident genius, to the Babooshka, a barren grandmother who just wants her own child-grown in a fruit jar; from Rajendra Das, mechanical hobo who has a mystical way with machines to the Gallacelli brothers, identical triplets who fell in love with and married the same woman.

My Thoughts:

Desolation Road by Ian McDonald follows thirty years in the lives of the citizens from one small town on Mars. This is a future Mars, after Mars has undergone terraforming to prepare it for human habitation. The town of Desolation Road, a remote oasis in the desert, was founded by Dr. Alimantando when he was following a green person across the desert.  At the beginning we meet the characters in short chapters as each new town person stumbles into Desolation Road, a town that should not exist, and then follow the pivotal roles each person plays in the destiny of the town and the Martian civilization. And, while all the characters are quite interesting, not all of them are sympathetic.

Desolation Road was originally published in 1988 and then re-released for a new audience in 2009. Several reviewers have pointed out that McDonald is the first writer to successfully apply elements of magical realism to science fiction. In many ways this gives the novel almost the feel of a folktale, but at other times it had the feel of a western. Basically, this is a difficult novel to describe. Really, read the description -  we go from Adam Black's Wonderful Travelling Chautauqua and Educational 'Stravaganza to the Babooshka who just wants her own child-grown in a fruit jar to the Gallacelli brothers, identical triplets who fell in love with and married the same woman. In some ways it is almost a collection of short stories based on the town but in the end it does pull itself together for a very complete novel.

I think it should also be clear that it is at times quite funny. For example, this is the reason for the name of the town:
"Desolation Road," he slurred, drinking down the final glass of peapod wine. "You are Desolation Road. And Desolation Road it remained, even though Dr. Alimantando realized when he sobered up that he had not meant Desolation Road at all, but Destination Road. pg. 18

I also need to note that McDonald's characters follow a Martian year for their ages, but that is never explained. A Martian year is almost twice as long as Earth's year, so, when a 9 or 11 year old  is having adult experiences it might be good to note that they are, in fact, adults.

There was one drawback to this newer edition - the proof reading is lacking. There are several times a new paragraph was started right in the middle of a sentence. But, for me, McDonald has a way with words that I really appreciate so it made reading Desolation Road a pleasure.
Highly Recommended


For three days Dr. Alimantando had followed the greenperson across the desert. Beckoned by a finger made from articulated runner beans, he had sailed over the desert of red grit, the desert of red stone, and the desert of red sand in pursuit of it. And each night, as he sat by his fire built from scraps of mummified wood, writing in his journals, the moonring would rise, that tumbling jewel-stream of artificial satellites, and it would draw the greenperson out of the deep places of the desert. opening

"Who are you?" asked Dr. Alimantando. "Why do you haunt my nights?"
"Though we journey through different dimensions, like you I am a traveller across this dry and waterless place," said the greenperson.
"Explain these 'different dimensions.'"
"Time and space. You space, I time."
"How can this be?" exclaimed Dr. Alimantando, who was passionately interested in time and temporality. Because of time he had been driven out of his home in the green hills of Deuteronomy, labeled "demon" and "wizard" and "eater of children" by neighbours who could not accommodate his harmless and creative eccentricity within their tightly defined world of cows, clapboard houses, sheep, silage and white picket fences. "How can you travel in time, something I have sought to accomplish for years?" pg. 11

"Unless I am here, certain trains of events will not come to pass; this my fellows have decided, for all time and space is theirs to manipulate, and they have sent me to guide you to your destiny."
"Be more explicit, man!" cried Dr. Alimantando, his quick temper flaring.
But the firelight flickered and the sky-filling sails of the Praesidium vessel twinkled in the light of the vanished sun, and the greenperson was gone. pg. 12

Jameson Jericho left behind his home, wife, children, everything he had ever loved and everything he had ever created. Now he was running across the Great Desert on a stolen Bethlehem Ares Railroads pump-bogie in search of the last place in the world anyone would think of looking for him. pg. 21

"Limaal," he said to the child in his right hand. "Taasmin," he said to the child in his left, and in doing so he cursed them with his curse, so that his right-handed rationalism passed into his son and his wife's left-handed mysticism passed into his daughter. They were the first natural citizens of Desolation Road, and their citizenship bestowed citizenship upon their parents and grandparent, for they could not press on to the land beyond the desert while there were still infants at the teat. So they stayed forever and never found the land beyond the mountains for which all Mandella have been searching ever since, for they know that Desolation Road is always one step short of paradise and they are content with that. pg. 25

Rajandra Das had been given the power of charming machinery. pg. 26

There were three Gallacelli brothers: Ed, Louie, and Umberto. No one knew which was Ed, which was Louie, and which was Umberto, because they were triplets and as mutually indistinguishable as peas in a pod or days in a prison. pg. 41

The first night only Little Johnny Stalin, aged 3 1/4, had a bed to himself. The was because he was a highly strung fat little bulb of a boy who would have screamed and screamed and screamed himself sick if he had not got a bed to himself. His mother acquiesced and popped him three or four adult-dosage sleeping pills to keep him quiet and docile. Johnny Stalin was a spoiled, junkie, highly strung fat little bulb of a boy. pg. 47