After a long reading hiatus (as in a hiatus from reading, not a hiatus in which to read), I was suddenly in the mood for a book again. Something easy, something fast, something maybe a bit on the sci-fi side. I’d picked up a pile of books from my uncle in Steinbach after the Pride Parade, and Flashback was the hardcover supporting the stack.
This book is set in a dystopian not-too-distant future in the United States of America in which that country and indeed much of the world has broken up into warring factions, and in which many people are addicted to a drug called Flashback which allows users to fully relive the memories of their choice. As I’ve mentioned before, I am a big fan of dystopian fiction (dystopian reality is a whole different thing!) so I flipped it open and gave it a go.
Was I ever disappointed. The story had lots of potential, I felt, but it was too superficial. There was a lot of emphasis on types of armour, transportation, and weaponry, which I recognize as being a stereotypically masculine version of stereotypically feminine “shopping fiction” in which outfits and jewellery and other branded items are described in similar painstaking and exhaustive detail in a manner meant to convey the importance and prestige of the material thus described.
The author’s beliefs / understandings about the world were repetitively conveyed throughout the book with a heavy hand. This might not be to have been so obvious to me if those beliefs were not utterly opposed to mine. It’s not that he created characters with whose worldviews I disagree (he did that as well; that’s not necessarily problematic). It’s that in his expository background information about how the world got into such a state, he repeatedly mentions that social programs and “entitlements” basically caused the USA (and most of Europe) to implode. He also talks about how anthropogenic climate change, that ridiculous theory, was roundly debunked. He explains that disarmament and the goodwill called for by Obama back in the day basically caused the USA to decline and fall. These are not the opinions of characters, mind you, but the explanation given for the state of the world and to describe the timeline between the reader’s present and the book’s present. The author’s assumption that the world will fall apart along racial and religious lines and that Islam (the “Global Caliphate”) will be the enemy is too simplistic to shock or horrify; it is a narrow, alarmist, unnuanced view of the future which is more irritating than compelling. Any book that unidimensionally presents a huge group of people (be that Muslims, Christians, Asians, anarchists, men, or whoever) as an absolutely homogenous, likeminded, and hostile group seems less like a creative work and more like a piece of propaganda.
There was not a single female character of any substance or importance. The closest thing to an important female character was Dara, who died before the story started, but she was more an idea / excuse / abstraction than a real person (she’s the daughter of one of the three main characters, the wife of the second, and the mother of the third). Honour demanded that one character kill his own daughter, and this was not perceived as particularly problematic by any other characters, or presented in any kind of negative light by the author. The traits and values the reader is supposed to accept as admirable in order to enter into this ficitonal world are stoicism, honour, power, hierarchy, cold-bloodedness, and tradition.
This hypermasculine, violent, right-wing story ended up not even being scifi, unless you want to count newer cars and fancy tanks and cool body armour as scifi. So I was disappointed on all counts. I read it right to the bitter end out of some sort of weird fascination (“can it possibly get worse? OH MY GOD yes it did“).
What really came out of this book is a white, Christian fear of the invading (whether physically, culturally, or religiously) hordes of black and brown infidels, and an even greater fear of the ones already within the American borders. It presumed no goodwill among different groups, and made no space at all for the strong alliances that exist across difference. It is a fearful, xenophobic stance that declares that those who are different are also wrong / bad / dangerous, and which rationalises pre-emptive measures up to and including violence.
It was a bit nauseating, actually. If I want to experience this fearmongering crap, I can tune in to Fox News or I can google Trump. This book gets a thumbs-down, a zero-star, and a dismissive toss into the giveaway pile.