Dan Simmons is an odd writer. Some of his stuff is simply sublime and verging on the point of excellence, as with his novels Carrion Comfort and The Terror, whilst others are distinctly average bordering on...well, crap in a word. I am thinking here, as a latter example, of such fare as the abominable Dickens homage Drood and his earlier novel, Summer Of Night. When he is good then, he is very, very good but when he is bad he is poor.
Thankfully Flashback falls into the former category and is very nearly an example of complete and total brilliance. His answer to the movie Strange Days, the novel sees his central character living in a dark and depressing dystopian future where much of America has simply given up and its people now spend their days re-living their past rather than living in the present through the common use of a drug named Flash.
Flash is a powerful narcotic and hallucinogen. Under its spell, users are able to trigger past memories and re-live them as though they are actually there. Skilled users can choose which memories they access and though there has long been rumours of Flash2 which would allow you to then have better control and be able to alter those memories, creating a new reality that exists solely in your head, so far nothing has emerged.
Into this dark, depressing future comes Ex-Cop, ex-Private Investigator Nick Bottom. Ex because he is a Flash addict who refuses to stop reliving memories of his wife in the days before she died in a fatal car crash. Bottom is washed-up; a mixed-up mess who continues to live only so that he can return to happier days in his head, but still he has something that a high powered Japanese business man wants!
Before being binned by the Force, Nick Bottom investigated the murder of this business man's son and now, after a fire has destroyed all records, his mind is the only source of information about the investigation which this business man now wants re-opened seven years later. Bottom is given a large sum of money to now solve the case, an offer he cannot refuse due to his addiction, but reopening the investigation also opens a big can of worms as he quickly begins to suspect that his wife was at the scene on the day of the murder. Just what has Bottom stumbled across and what does it mean for the future....
With its constant references to Shakespeare and A Mid-Summers Nights Dream, Simmons shows off his prowess at writing something that is, at the same time, as literary as it is fantastic. The world he has created is part Strange Days/ part Blade Runner but all scarily believable as we pay witness to an America where the Muslim faith has seized large areas of control and where an air of complacency has crept in amongst its people. Flashback is only set twenty years forwards and yet, if you read carefully you can see the groundwork for this worlds creation being established in the here and now.
This simply is brilliant, a true tour-de-force, and easily the best of his books I have read since The Terror. If you are a little unsure of Dan Simmons as an author, still you should give this a go because this is the book that might just change your mind about him!