LA Times Reviews FLASHBACK -- July 2011
The Siren's Call: Apocalyptic world? Forget about it!
People ignore a bleak world by hiding in their memories in Dan Simmons' novel 'Flashback.'
By Nick Owchar
Los Angeles Times
July 24, 2011
Marcel Proust, the great author of memory, gets a swift kick in the pants in Dan Simmons' latest novel of an apocalyptic future, "Flashback" (Reagan Arthur/Little, Brown: 560 pp., $27.99). Remember all that stuff Proust wrote about memories returning to him with the taste of a madeleine cookie? For Simmons, memories can be summoned and controlled far more easily, and reliably, with a few snorts of a drug called flashback.
In this novel, most Americans — about 85% — are hooked on flashback, preferring to spend their days in soiled clothes on grimy cots, reliving the cozy past rather than facing a chaotic world.
Simmons' portrait of the near-future presents a bankrupt United States that has been chopped into pieces. There are lawless frontier areas and zones of federally protected territory; people pour across the border from Mexico, while the Canadians have erected a wall along theirs; armed enclaves battle over cities; Texas is a republic again; Muslim groups are proliferating; and there's even a mosque standing on ground zero in New York City. So who would blame Americans for this addiction? Taking a hit of flashback is a welcome escape from reality.
At the novel's center is Nick Bottom, a former cop whose parents must've appreciated Shakespeare (or maybe they had no idea they were naming him after the hapless "Midsummer Night's Dream" character). Nick is a grieving widower and flashback addict (these, by the way, are related). He's been hired to thaw a cold case for Hiroshi Nakamura, a wealthy, powerful Japanese businessman living on an armed Southern California hillside area once occupied by the Getty Center. Despite his millions, he's never been able to find out who murdered his documentary filmmaker son Keigo in Denver. Why turn to a miserable, addled detective for help? Because Bottom was involved in the original investigation.
"I'm the only person who can, under the flash, relive every conversation with the witnesses and suspects and other detectives involved," he realizes.
It's an intriguing spin on the detective story trope. Simmons is a consummate master of intriguing spins, shifting between time periods and situations more gracefully than a chameleon changes colors. In recent books he has explored a doomed 19th century expedition to find the Northwest Passage in "The Terror," the world of Charles Dickens in "Drood" and Custer's defeat at the Little Big Horn in "Black Hills." Now, with "Flashback," Simmons gives us a noirish thriller set in a grim, broken future where the only relief comes from a drug.
"There's nothing in the 'verse like flashing after wasting somebody" — that's the motto of a violent group of L.A. streetkids known as a "flashgang" (they remind this reviewer of "A Clockwork Orange's" droogs). One of the gang, Val, happens to be Bottoms' estranged son: He lives with his retired professor grandfather Leonard (Bottom's father-in-law) in a city trembling under the "reconquista" attacks of "spanic" militias who want to return the region to Mexico's control. Simmons choreographs their escape from L.A. along with Bottom's investigation at the crime scene in Denver — and we sense a reunion even if we can't guess how it will happen.
As Bottom probes Keigo's murder — his documentary was about flashback addiction — he willingly torments himself with memories of his happy life with his beautiful, loving wife Dara … and slowly, very slowly, he realizes her death in a car accident may be tied with Keigo's murder. An assistant to a Denver assistant D.A., Dara had been working on a case she was never able to discuss with her husband. Her secrecy never bothered Bottom before; now it troubles him constantly.
Murder plots, conspiracy and global meltdown are a lot to handle — but if you've ever read Simmons before, you know that he's adept at constructing immense, complicated frameworks, and "Flashback" is no exception. The big picture Simmons envisions, and that Bottom faces, partly involves a looming war with a resurgent Islam and the lulling of the United States to sleep with flashback. Who's behind this treachery is a shocker — and won't be revealed here.
Simmons doesn't play with the memory-vs-reality theme like Philip K. Dick; in the end, in fact, he's much closer to that lyrical devourer of madeleines, Proust. Even if their approaches are radically different, they share a common theme: Life is so full of disappointment, and time moves so swiftly, that memory enables us to recapture those special, transcendent moments in our lives.
You might even trace the lineage of Simmons' flashback users to Tennyson's lotos-eaters and the story as it was told in Homer's "Odyssey." And come to think of it, let's include the English Romantic poets even though they yearned for a different kind of oblivion — didn't they wish to avoid the pains of the present with a cup filled with the waters of Lethe, the fabled underworld river that washes souls clean?
Ah, sweet oblivion. You can't blame Bottom for wanting to forget the present, for wanting to lose himself in a dream, whether on a midsummer's night or otherwise. Still, he makes one more discovery late in the story that provides him with a way to forsake the drug and live in the present. It's a simple lesson that would easily fit on a slip of paper tucked into a fortune cookie (skip the madeleine): "You can't have life without pain…. Being alive means having the strength to face pain and loss."
Publishers Weekly Starred Review of Flashback (May 23, 2011)
Dan Simmons. Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur, $27.99 (560p) ISBN 978-0-316-00696-5
Simmons makes some logical if depressing extrapolations from current political and economic developments in this outstanding mystery thriller set in a near-future dystopic United States. The loss of credible deterrence after the U.S. drastically reduced its nuclear arsenal as part of a deal with Russia has led to devastating attacks by Muslim terrorists on Israel. Most Americans take flashback, an addictive drug that brings back favorite memories, to relive the past when they should be planning for the future. One such addict is Nick Bottom, a former Denver police officer, who loses himself in re-experiencing good times with his late wife. Billionaire Hiroshi Nakamura, one of the fragmented nation's nine regional Federal Advisors, hires Bottom to find the unknown assailant who cut the throat of his only son, 20-year-old Keigo, six years earlier. Bottom, who worked on the unsolved crime, uses flashback to pick up a trail suggesting a far from simple motive for Keigo's killing. Simmons keeps the action moving briskly and smoothly, despite the novel's length. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/23/2011
From an email from Subterranean Press
Announcing FLASHBACK by Dan Simmons -- Only 276 copies
We've sewn up the rights to the Signed Limited Edition of Dan Simmons' new SF thriller, Flashback. Dan's many fans will recognize the title as that of a stunning novella from his collection, Lovedeath. Flashback the novel is a huge-to nearly 200,000 words-expansion of that tale.
Collectors Note: This is the smallest edition-only 276 copies-we've ever produced of one of Dan's novels, and we expect a quick sell out.
Now, more about the book, due this Summer/Fall:
Hugely expanded to an epic from the novella first published in 1993's Lovedeath, Dan Simmons's latest novel, Flashback, is both an enthralling, beautifully orchestrated narrative and a chilling vision of the not-too-distant future.
By the mid-2030s, America as we know it has ceased to exist. The social, political, and fiscal crises of the present day have metastasized wildly, and the center no longer holds. The nation, now hopelessly fragmented, remains in the grip of a seemingly endless recession. Stadiums once used for sporting events now serve as Homeland Security detention centers. And vast segments of the populace have succumbed to Flashback, a potent new drug that allows its users to recreate-to literally re-experience-selected moments from the past. Against this backdrop, Simmons introduces Nick Bottom: grieving widower, former Denver homicide detective, and hardcore Flashback addict. Nick's moribund life takes an unexpected turn when he is asked to revisit a vicious double homicide he failed to solve more than six years before.
These are the central elements of a remarkable - and disquieting - novel that crosses genre boundaries with effortless authority. Absorbing, affecting, and constantly surprising, Flashback shows us Dan Simmons at his unpredictable best, combining the pleasures of a headlong narrative with a richly detailed portrait of a frightening - and all too plausible - new world.
Limited: 250 signed numbered hardcover copies: $125
Lettered: 26 signed leatherbound copies, housed in a custom traycase: $300
Dan's Promotional Video for BLACK HILLS
Dan was asked by Borders Online to do a promotional video discussing his new book BLACK HILLS, to be released from Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Little, Brown, on Feb. 24, 2010. Versions of the 7-minute video will also appear on other sites.
The video was produced by videographers Jane Simmons and Robin Truesdale. Please click on the following link to see the BLACK HILLS promotional video:
Video Promo for BLACK HILLS
A review of BLACK HILLS from the Washington Post (March 16, 2010) --
By Barbara Ehrenreich
Book World: Barbara Ehrenreich reviews 'Black Hills' by Dan Simmons
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
By Dan Simmons
Little, Brown. 487 pp. $25.99
The premise of Dan Simmons's new novel, "Black Hills," is not promising. A Lakota Sioux man named Paha Sapa ("Black Hills"), who is a paragon of Native American spirituality, goes to the Battle of the Little Big Horn and gets infected by the soul of Gen. Custer, thus becoming locked in uncomfortable interior intimacy with the celebrated Indian killer.
I know, I know -- and I would have tossed the book across the room if I had not already discovered Simmons through his 2007 novel, "The Terror." I almost gave up on that one in disgust when one of the principals turned out to be a monster with a taste for Arctic explorers. But I persisted, riveted for another 600 pages as the characters succumbed to cold, starvation, lead poisoning, cannibalism and attack by monster.
"The Terror" led to "Drood," Simmons's 2009 novel featuring Charles Dickens. The connection? Except for the monster, "The Terror" was a pretty straightforward attempt to reconstruct the fate of the lost Franklin Expedition to find the Northwest Passage. When evidence of cannibalism among the doomed expedition members surfaced in 1854, the real-life Dickens had been moved to write an essay on the impossibility of civilized white Christians committing such an outrage. But as we discover in "Drood," the author of "Oliver Twist" was himself up to his ears in the morbid and the occult, which seemed to be running rampant in the sewers and slums of London.
Confused? Well, welcome to my mind, which for better or worse has been colonized by this insanely prolific, multi-genre writer. So when Paha Sapa turns out also to be channeling Crazy Horse and Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum in addition to Custer, and to be capable of visions that carry him from the Pleistocene to well into the 21st century, I barely flinched.
One of the attractions, for those who crave outdoor adventure, is that Simmons does physical distress better than anyone -- whether it's freezing to death in the Arctic, wrestling with laudanum addiction in 19th-century London, or hauling dynamite to blow up Mount Rushmore, that appalling symbol of white power.
Another big attraction is history. Jonathan Franzen once accused readers of historical fiction of multi-tasking -- "absorbing civics lessons or historical data" at the same time as enjoying the story -- and I freely admit to this crime against literature. "Black Hills" is so research-driven that you can almost imagine the author as an intricate, jerry-rigged device designed to suck in historical data at one end and spray out fictional narrative at the other. For example, Simmons's portrayal of Custer's nonagenarian widow seems to be derived directly from the biographical sources, and when, in "Black Hills," President Coolidge visits Mount Rushmore and is entranced by the trout fishing, I was not surprised to confirm that detail by Googling.
After the genocidal Indian wars that Paha Sapa has been unfortunate enough to witness, it's impossible not to root for the destruction of the presidents' rock faces on the mountainside. But for anyone expecting a paean to Native American nobility and spiritual superiority, "Black Hills" holds a surprising twist. Toward the very end, Custer's ghost, who by this time has had second thoughts about his historical role, points out to Paha Sapa that the Sioux themselves were a "ruthless, relentless invasion machine," who had beaten back the Arikara, Hidatsa, Mandan, Crows and Pawnee and that the Sioux were, furthermore, ecological vandals: "We could smell your garbage heaps from twenty miles away," says Custer's ghost. "The only thing that made you look and seem noble was the fact that you could keep moving, leaving your buffalo-run heaps of rotting carcasses and giant mounds of stinking garbage behind you."
A stolid, hardworking survivor of so many battles and massacres, Paha Sapa is himself a kind of node in history, bringing together Crazy Horse and Custer, white expansionism and red defiance, not to mention astronomy and native mythology, as well as reverberations from the incipient European Holocaust.
So what does Simmons need the supernatural for? Couldn't he be content writing carefully researched historical fiction in beautiful prose? My guess is that he's using his monsters and ghosts to impress on us that the historical novelist's business of bringing the dead to life involves a kind of magic.
Ehrenreich is the author, most recently, of "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America."
First Reviews in for BLACK HILLS
Publishers Weekly (Dec. 21, 2009) gives BLACK HILLS a starred review:
Black Hills Dan Simmons. Little, Brown/Reagan Arthur, $25.99 (496p) ISBN 978-0-316-00698-9
Hugo-winner Simmons, the author of such acclaimed space operas as Hyperion and Olympos as well as Drood, an intriguing riff on Dickens's unfinished last novel, displays the impressive breath of his imagination in this historical novel with a supernatural slant. In the author's retelling of Custer's last stand at the Little Big Horn in 1876, the dying general's ghost enters the body of Paha Sapa, a 10-year-old Sioux warrior who's able to see both the past and the future by touching people. The action leaps around in time to illustrate the arc of Sapa's life, but focuses on 1936, when, as a septuagenarian, he plots to blow up the monuments on Mount Rushmore in time for a visit to the site by FDR to atone for his role in constructing the stone likenesses. In his ability to create complex characters and pair them with suspenseful situations, Simmons stands almost unmatched among his contemporaries. 6-city author tour. (Feb.)
Stephen King's 10 Best Horror Novels of 2009 in Entertainment Weekly
Click here for PDF copy of this article
COMING SOON! TWO NEW RELEASES
Dan's new novel BLACK HILLS (Reagan Arthur Books, an imprint of Little, Brown and Co.) is set for release on February 24, 2010. It is an epic tale of a Lakota Sioux named Paha Sapa ("Black Hills") whose life spans the decades of perhaps the greatest change in America's history. When Paha Sapa, a young Sioux warrior, "counts coup" on General George Armstrong Custer as Custer lies dying on the battlefield at the Little Bighorn, the legendary general's ghost enters him - and his voice will speak to him for decades to come.
Seamlessly weaving together the stories of Paha Sapa, Custer, and the American West, Dan Simmons depicts a tumultuous time in the history of both Native and white Americans. Haunted by Custer's ghost, and also by his ability to see into the memories and futures of legendary men like Sioux war-chief Crazy Horse, Paha Sapa's long life is driven by a dramatic vision he experienced as a boy in his people's sacred Black Hills.
In August of 1936, a dynamite worker on the massive Mount Rushmore project, Paha Sapa plans to silence his ghost forever and reclaim his people's legacy-on the very day FDR comes to Mount Rushmore to dedicate the Jefferson face.
A limited edition of BLACK HILLS will later be available from Subterranean Press. http://subterraneanpress.com/
Just released this November 2009 is the re-issued CARRION COMFORT (St. Martin's Press, trade paperback). In his blurb for the book, Stephen King called this novel "one of the three greatest horror novels of the 20th century. Simple as that.” First published in 1989 as a limited edition (Dark Harvest), CARRION COMFORT went on to win the Bram Stoker, the British Fantasy and the LOCUS awards. In 2009 Dan sold the movie rights to the Costa Gavras group of France and the movie is now in pre-production. http://us.macmillan.com/carrioncomfort
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY BEST BOOKS OF 2009
-- Publishers Weekly, 11/2/2009
It's almost Thanksgiving, which is the beginning of the end of another year, and for us at PW that means our annual best books list. From more than 50,000 volumes, we valiantly set out to choose 100, and this year we've upped the ante with a top 10 list. A usually cooperative, agreeable bunch, we gave ourselves a reason to fight. We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration. We expect you'll be surprised: there's a graphic novel, an adventure story, possibly the next Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a delicious biography that could bring Cheever back into the literary firmament. We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz. We gave fair chance to the “big” books of the year, but made them stand on their own two feet. It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male. There was kicking and screaming for a science fiction title. A literary ghost story came so close, it squeaked. There was almost a cookbook. Our fabulous long list smoothed ruffled feathers, but still we can't resist one honorable mention: Kevin Wilson's debut collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (Harper Perennial). With no regrets, we're ready for “Auld Lang Syne.” —Louisa Ermelino
Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)
Reporter Jack McEvoy decides to go out with a bang, after he's laid off from the L.A. Times, in a nail-biting thriller that charts the demise of print journalism and shows why Connelly is one of today's top crime authors.
The Fate of Katherine Carr
Thomas H. Cook (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Edgar-winner Cook eloquently explores the often cathartic act of storytelling as George Gates, a former travel writer who after seven years still broods over his eight-year-old son's murder, looks into the unsolved disappearance of reclusive poet Katherine Carr 20 years earlier.
Pete Dexter (Grand Central)
Dexter's crowd-pleasing wiles are razor sharp in this long-awaited novel, the madcap and touching, assured and (ahem) dexterous story of a very Dexter-like Warren Spooner.
Gillian Flynn (Crown/Shaye Areheart)
Flynn tops her impressive debut, Sharp Objects, with a second crime thriller, centered on the slaying of a mother and two daughters in their Kansas farmhouse witnessed by the youngest, surviving daughter. It builds to a truth so twisted even the most astute readers won't see it coming.
The Man in the Wooden Hat
Jane Gardam (Europa)
Octogenarian Gardam bookends her much-lauded Old Filth with this witty and very British love story, taking on with aplomb loyalty, lust, ambition and longing as she excavates the holes in all of our hearts.
George Dawes Green (Grand Central)
Two con men hold a family hostage in rural Georgia in order to get half of their $318 million lottery winnings in this masterful, often comic novel of psychological suspense, Green's first since 1995's The Juror.
Paul Harding (Bellevue Literary Press)
George Crosby's deathbed reveries wander through memories of his own life as a boy and the lives of his father and grandfather, in this sumptuously written first novel that has been the darling of indie bookstores.
Zoë Heller (Harper)
Heller zeroes in on a liberal Jewish Greenwich Village family whose perfect lefty household falls into some hilarious setups as the dysfunctions pile up and eventually spill over when the patriarch's feet of clay are revealed. Hilarious, readable and atmospheric.
Yiyun Li (Random)
Wrenching and bleak are understatements for Li's magnificent gothic account of life in provincial 1979 China, centering on the execution of a counterrevolutionary. For all the morbid happenings—and there are many of them—the novel's immediately involving and impossible to walk away from.
How to Sell
Clancy Martin (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
Martin's peerless debut novel about a naïve Canadian's crooked education in the jewelry business is horrifying and sad and very funny. Truth is always elusive; here, it's a dire liability, too.
New World Monkeys
Nancy Mauro (Crown/Shaye Areheart)
An outstandingly original debut that takes the ridiculous (a couple kill a wild pig on their move to the burbs that turns out to be their new town's beloved mascot) and renders it psychological in this sendup of academia, advertising, peeping toms and young marrieds.
The Last War
Ana Menendez (Harper)
A deeply moving story of a photojournalist in Istanbul waiting to join her war correspondent husband in Iraq. Her reluctance, suspicions and flashbacks of their time spent in Afghanistan create a dark background for the brilliance of her descriptions and observations.
Jo Nesbø (Harper)
Oslo Insp. Harry Hole discovers that a bank robbery is linked to the apparent suicide of a woman friend he hasn't seen in years in this lush crime saga from the Norwegian author.
Lark and Termite
Jayne Anne Phillips (Pantheon)
This elegant unraveling of parallel narratives—a grunt's Korean War tour of duty and the story of a family struggling through hard times nine years later—is at once intensely personal and loaded with themes of identity, duty and renewal, all the while maintaining a tight coil of suspense.
The Cry of the Sloth
Sam Savage (Coffee House)
The increasingly desperate letters dispatched by the editor of a middling literary magazine provide a glimpse into the soul of a minor writer ravaged by existential dread. As Savage slowly deflates the narrator's self-importance, he provides a caustic and supremely funny portrait of a man in decline.
Dan Simmons (Little, Brown)
Narrated by Wilkie Collins, this unsettling and complex thriller imagines a frightening sequence of events that prompts Collins's friend and fellow author, Charles Dickens, to write The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens's last, uncompleted novel.
Cutting for Stone
Abraham Verghese (Knopf)
Verghese's move to fiction is sweeping and fabulous, starting in India, settling in Ethiopia and moving on to the U.S. in a magnificent epic that follows twin boys as they negotiate medical training, revolution, the search for their roots and their relationship with each other.
The Little Stranger
Sarah Waters (Riverhead)
A finalist for the Man Booker Prize, this subtle, creepy haunted house story chronicles the decline of an aristocratic county family after WWII as seen through the less than reliable eyes of a bachelor doctor, whose mother once served as a maid at the family's manor.
Colson Whitehead (Doubleday)
Whitehead's intellect, gorgeous prose, measured nostalgia and sheer storytelling prowess raises the bar for coming-of-age novels. It's as sublime as you're likely to read.
Once the Shore
Paul Yoon (Sarabande)
The eight stories in Yoon's remarkable collection revolve around the inhabitants of a small South Korean island rocked by Japanese occupation and later by the Korean War and are no less powerful for their quiet introspection. Yoon's delicate exploration of heartache places him high in the firmament of old souls.