The Tea Party’s Answer For Newt’s Suckage At Sci Fi: Dan Simmons’ “Flashback”

Dan Simmons latest, “Flashback”, reviewed in mid Summer by the WaPo was declared a Tea Party manifesto. The plot occurs in a fallen U.S. some 30 years in the future, with Mexico occupying the Southwest, Japan in Hawaii directly and ruling the West and Midwest indirectly via zaibatsu viceroys. Israel is nuked out existence, and the Global Caliphate expands in Europe, Canada and even the remaining 44 1/2 U.S. states by Sharia Law.

The future U.S. is a broke, neo-totalitarian State, with cities and roads lawless. It rents out its poorly trained and equipped army as fodder to Japan and India to fight their wars. People deal with the catastrophes by abusing a drug called ‘Flashback’ that allows one to memory dive and relieve a past moment as new again.

All of the decline, this ‘appeasement’ occurred because of a man elected president in November 2008. His policies like ObamaCare, his speech in Cairo, it all started with one community organizer.

The lone, shining hold out of integrity and self-esteem? Why, the Republic of Texas, naturally.

The 550 pages uses the murder of a young Japanese in Denver to explore this shattered world. He was the son of an up-and-coming Japanese Shogun wannabe. When it occurred 6 years ago in novel time, the murder remained unsolved. Now, years later, the Japanese father hires the original Denver detective, fired and a Flashback addict to re-work the case. The detective has spent the last 6 years abusing Flashback, reliving moments with his wife, who herself was killed months after the original murder. Naturally, the two plot lines eventually over lap.

But Nick Bottom’s investigation with all its drama, action, and intrigue is not, to paraphrase Simmons’ Acknowledgement, what Flashback is really about. The writing of Flashback was fuelled by the author’s anger at the current state of the nation: strip away the futuristic SF narrative and Flashback is a commentary on the state of the nation today.

As with Simmons’ other works, he plays with references to classic literature and fiction to convey meaning. Here, his central protagonist is Nick Bottom, named we are told for the overconfident weaver from Midsummer’s Night Dream. Like “Inception”, the reader in the end is asked to resolve who Nick Bottom speaks for – “the failed, arrogant America of the past”, the clueless detective he’s meant to play, Dan Simmons himself – his out for writing this stuff – or the reader, for wading to the end of 550 pages.

It’s All Obama’s Fault

The novel fails for a variety of reasons, apart from its ideology. (Simmons claims the politics expounded are not his, per se.) Take simple world building. There’s little connection between the dystopian, dysfunctional world and its alleged origins. Obama is said to have triggered a tidal wave of debt that destroyed the U.S. And that’s it. Socialism and multi-culturalism ate us from within. Proof? There’s a huge mosque celebrating the martyrs at Ground Zero.

National healthcare in the future takes 19 months to get x-ray in line for a heart operation results back. Las Vegas remains a real oasis in the desert powered by Indian nuclear reactors (why only in Vegas we never learn). America we are simply told squandered its last fortune on green economy failures. Climate change? A leftist fraud.

Somehow China evaporated, too. One paragraph about a bubble and civil war. American boys drafted as mercs for Indian and Japanese interests in China under UN (???) auspices.

Texas, with its Randian philosophy of “No Losers Allowed”, remains a reminder of what America was. Texans suddenly control their borders very well and keep the riff raff out. Japan today is more in debt than America. Its mutli-decade non-functioning government beyond a national joke. It’s also entering its *third* Lost Decade. Somehow it’s now the only global power that will take a stand against the Caliphate and Sharia Law? Simmons declares all this by fiat. Never plausibly explained. Japan can use orbiting hypersonic kinetic energy weapons instead of nukes (which they also have) because Obama *forced* them to become a superpower. The Caliphate nuked 6,000,000 Israelis, deployed 5,000 more bombs, conquered Europe, Canada, the Middle East and it’s all because of Obama. And Ward Churchill. And MoveOn.

Simmons tries to distract from the lazy world creation by covering terrain long mined by Gibson. He ostentatiously drops in Japanese dialogue, cuts and pastes basic Wikipedia prose about Japanese industrial history. Adding to the cool (and screen play pick up) he litters the pages with 2 dimensional corporate ninja with miracle Japanese tech. Simmons also name checks Putin’s reign, too. Vendors at markets under ruins of Interstate overhangs hawk t-shirts with his image and 3D artificial intelligence. At key points even Putin makes commentary from a t-shirt.

There are individual set piece narratives that work. A covert escape by Detective Bottom’s estranged son and father-in-law from LA to Denver via illegal armed caravan. A battle near Santa Fe between two Japanese vehicles against three tanks and a small army. Each play well as anything in “The Road” or “The Book of Eli.” Still, these bits are lost in the clumsy political polemics.

A Great Power’s population abandoning today for reliving its past via narcotics is an interesting premise. A world building exercise depicting wow the U.S. domestically copes with these Lost Decades worth doing. A shame that “Flashback” relied on short cuts to try and do it all. At 550 pages, too.


  1. another comment says


    Haven’t read the masterpiece, but–maybe it’s the Mexican drug lords running everything. That would certainly be my plot shortcut.

  2. says

    Texas? How long would it last without oil or water (it imports the one and is running out of the other). You can be lazy about world-building if you’re trying to make a point. I’ve heard this “Hyperion’s so great” from several quarters, but it never resonated with me – I couldn’t finish it.

  3. Comment says

    There are definately sparks of intelligence (corrupted by poised ideology) that run thru the narrative, as you describe it.

    The flash and outbreak of a fiery mind? Maybe not. But as far as right wing art goes – not bad.

  4. DrLeoStrauss says

    The book represents probably the best, mainstream talent Tea Party types will get to insert their memes into popular sci-fi culture, weak as the effort is.

    Here, it can’t help but color the reviewer’s profound affection and devotion to some of his earlier, widely embraced work. His needless inclusion of beloved signature lines from earlier characters spoken by others in this mess simply heartbreaking.

  5. Comment says

    Did explore the religous ramifications of nuking 6 million Israelis , along with the Sepulcher, the Wailing Wall, the Dome of the Rock …. etc? Did Christ come back? If so, are the shoguns Christian?

  6. rkka says

    Lazy, ignorant, no possible way from here to there, and History started in November 2008.

    Yup, it will sell millions among its target audience.

  7. jayinbmore says

    Isn’t the flashback drug premise lifted from the Kids in the Hall movie “Braincandy”? I wonder if Simmons minds a bunch of Canadians got there first…

  8. lacp says

    Alas, Simmons is full of shit – he’s a full bore tea partyer, despite his disclaimer. Tremendous waste of great writing talent (Hyperion, various horror novels, etc.) At least Mamet admits he’s a fucking wingnut – and it’s destroyed him, too.

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