NESFA Members' Reviews


by Robert J. Sawyer

Tor, 1999, ISBN 0-312-86712-3

A book review by Elisabeth Carey

Lloyd Simcoe and T heo Procopides, physicists at CERN, are using the Large Hadron Collider in an attempt to produce a Higgs boson. Instead, starting at the exact moment of the particle collision that should have produced the Higgs boson, every person in the world--including, it is later determined, chimps and gorillas that have learned sign language--gets a one minute forty-three second glimpse of a day twenty-one years in the future. In the present, of course, they black out while having this glimpse, with the natural consequence that there is much death and destruction. Planes landing or taking off crash, cars and trucks go out of control, people die on the operating table, etc. Lloyd's fiancée's seven-year-old daughter is one of those killed. A few people, including Lloyd's partner Theo, have no visions; they simply black out. He learns from other people, who were reading or watching news reports in their visions, that he was murdered two days before the day the visions are of.

The remainder of the book is Theo attempting to solve his own murder before it happens, so that he can prevent it, while Lloyd goes through much existential angst attempting to determine whether free will exists. In a completely deterministic universe, he's off the hook for all that death and destruction; he couldn't have chosen to do differently. If free will exists, and people can change the future they saw, or didn't see (as Theo quite naturally wants to prevent his own murder), then Lloyd, who made the decision to go ahead with the experiment, is responsible for his own actions and their consequences.

Part of the difficulty with the visions, of course, is that a one minute forty-three second glimpse without any backward context can be very misleading. The detective who will be investigating Theo's murder in twenty-one years is a seven-year-old boy. He his vision is of visiting the morgue to view the body, during which he hears himself saying that Theo was killed "in the ring." His father's a boxing fan; he interprets this as "in the boxing ring." I think it\rquote s no great spoiler to say that this is not correct.

An interesting book, but I found both Lloyd and Theo rather irritating. Not dislikable, really; just irritating. In different ways, they're both quite full of themselves, and need to be whacked on their heads and told to get over it.

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