here) and "Endymion" (review here)
Flashback brings to the fore all the limits that Dan Simmons' writing has.
Its set in the near-future, around 2032, where the world has changed a lot. America has declined both economically and politically, so much so that it is not even capable of holding on to its territory (just 44.5 states remain in the USA). It has bankrupted itself due to the so-called "entitlement programs". China has imploded. The new superpowers are Japan and India. And a powerful Global Islamic Caliphate has emerged that exterminated all of Israel with nuclear bombs wiping out over 6 million jews.
Flashback is a drug that allows people to relive their past and 95% of Americans are now addicts. America is a place of rampant lawlessness, frequent terrorist attacks and Americans live in conditions akin to, or worse than, the current third-world conditions. The USA has absolutely no importance on the world stage and is bullied around by Japan and even the Caliphate. The USA hires out its armies to the Japanese for money and there is a giant mosque at the 9/11 ground zero site and there are annual CELEBRATIONS that commemorate the attacks of Sept 11, 2001.
In this world, our hero Nick, is an ex-cop, now-addict of flashback, who is hired by a powerful Japanese billionaire to solve the murder of his son six years ago. Nick was the detective who investigated the murder 6 years ago without any success. Since then, his wife has died and the grief has turned him into a flashback addict, reliving his happy times with his wife. He's so shattered that he doesn't even care about his 11-year-old son whom he has sent off to his grandfather in Los Angeles.
That is all I'm going to say about the story. Lets just say that the plot is flimsy at best and the ending is formulaic and predictable.
Now with the problems.
The biggest problem is this future world that Simmons has created. I DON'T BUY IT! I just don't. Its too unbelievable, too fantastical and far-fetched to the point of ridiculousness. I don't care for this world because I don't like it, and more importantly I don't think its credible at all. I can envisage the USA not being a global superpower, but I don't think it'll ever get to being the utterly spineless USA that this book depicts. I mean, seriously, how ridiculous is it to see celebrations of the 9/11 attacks inside the USA, at Ground Zero actually? Such is the overly exaggerated decline of the USA in the book, and it is explained away by reasons so simplistic that it insults the intelligence of the reader.
The entire book was a huge political rant. A very myopic view of the current issues facing USA that blames the shocking decline squarely on the Obama administration. It feels so much like an excuse to vent the author's decidedly republican political views. And when the story took a breather from being a very badly written political rant, it felt like a very boring geography lesson. So many times in the book, the story comes to a complete standstill as the author either rants about his political views or gives a completely unnecessarily detailed geography lesson on the American southwest. So, for no reason at all, the story stops all of a sudden and you are reading the history of some stadium, or some park, or some specific building, while waiting for the story to restart. This adds nothing whatsoever to the story, is completely irrelevant to the plot and completely breaks the flow of the story. And it happens over and over and over and over again, throughout the book.
Another extremely annoying thing was how many times Simmons makes his characters say really stupid things. And as if it thats not bad enough, the character justifies saying that stupid thing by thinking of an excuse. WTF? Either don't write stupid dialogue, or if you do, at least don't attract attention to it by making an excuse for it. Its just bad, amateurish writing, even I know that!
One last word about the characters. Dan Simmons has never been good at making his characters real human beings that you care for, and that is sadly the case here too. Suffice to say that I didn't care for Nick, his messed-up son or even his dead wife.
The only good thing about this book was that it ended.