The best science fiction, the science fiction that is most enjoyable, that hangs together, that is believable and doesn’t strand the reader uses a simple formula: a story set in our world, that plays by our physical rules with one exception. In Asimov’s world, robots existed and lived among us. What happens if time travel is really possible? We find out in Back to the Future and The Time Traveller’s Wife. In Richard K. Morgan’s world of Altered Carbon, downloading your consciousness into another body is possible. Each of these novels follow the same formula. The story is set in our world, that follows the same rules of physics as we know them, with one exception. Any story that allows for more than one is known as fantasy.
The latest novel from Dan Simmons, of Hyperion fame, is a dystopian novel set 20 years in the future, After the Shit Hit the Fan. We don’t know what the shit was, but it was major. The United States is in ruins, the remaining population drives shit electric vehicles that can only go 30 miles to a charge, live in fear of constant Islamic terrorist acts (not threats), and are continually fighting off the Mexicans as they take over more and more of the US’s territory in the southwest.
Our main character, Nick Bottom, is an ex-cop and father, who’s wife has died, forcing him to pawn his only son off on his father-in-law, incidentally a Jewish academic who bumbles through life in this brave new world. Bottom, along with the rest of the country, is addicted to a drug called Flashback. Flashback allows the user to relive any memory, in real time, as if they were an observer in the moment. Through the use of flashback, the country as a whole is indulging its obsession with the past, with little care about the present or the future.
On the surface, this novel is about Bottom’s struggle as a flashback addict and private investigator, desperately trying to solve the murder of Japanese businessman’s son six years after the fact, reminiscent of a Raymond Chandler pulp. Supposedly, Bottom is chosen because his adept flashback usage means he can go back to the scene of the crime, over and over, to re-examine the evidence that is now lost. Beneath the surface, this novel is a tirade against the left, the progressives, the Democrats and Barack Obama, specifically. One chapter, completely unrelated to the story, describes in detail how Obama’s entitlements destroyed the US economy and the country. Using the language (dog whistles, if you will) of the modern day right, Simmons characters rail against every liberal idea currently held in popular regard. Review after review after review points this out for us.
Indeed, this novel is hard to read if you vote Democrat. Simmons is an excellent author, and you cannot help but cheer for our protagonist as he fights his way through this mystery, facing opposition at every turn. It’s when Bottom–who’s side you are on–uses his hindsight (helped by flashback) to explain how Obama and the Democrats destroyed the country, the reader can’t help but question his or her own beliefs. Even if you’re not sympathetic to the gun-toting PI, his liberal father-in-law will also explain for you how he was so, so wrong when he voted in entitlements as well. One hopes you get the idea by now. This book is catnip to the GOP.
Every good science fiction novel, and Flashback is one, follows the same formula: our world with one exception. If you had to guess, the exception would be the drug flashback. This is a red herring. The real exception, the part of the world that isn’t real, the one that every review misses is this: This story is only possible if the GOP is right about how the world works.
Flashback is one of the most clever and damming science fiction novels written in recent memory. Simmons never wavers from his thesis, and paints an ugly dystopian future that examines our world should the likes of Santorum and Gingrich accurately predict the future of our current course. Simmons, well versed in his craft, knows he has his readers hooked on the story, and brutally forces the reader to accept as fact that entitlements bankrupted the country into ruin. That Islam is a force of destruction and terror. That Mexico is one or two soft politicians away from reclaiming California.
Remember, this is good science fiction.