There is no doubt that Simmons’ Flashback has a rather strong right wing bias. Some reviews that I read called it “Right Wing disaster port” and a “Conservative’s wet dream”. These are fairly accurate descriptions. There are a few passages in the book where all pretense at literary license is abandon and the character or narration breaks into an anti-entitlement, anti-Liberal, even anti-Obama diatribe. While citing entitlement as the cause of the great ongoing recession, no mention is made of the role played by greedy and corrupt banks in causing the biggest part of the debt crisis and triggering the economic problems. This alone is a serious shortcoming in the objectivity of the novel’s setting.
In spite of that, I found it a very engaging book. It is not unusual to have to suspend your sense of reality when reading Science Fiction or Fantasy, so it wasn’t that hard to do so in this case. As a thought experiment, it’s very interesting, and there are some points in it that are thought provoking. We do see the danger of cultural erosion currently playing out in some European countries. This morning on the radio I did hear news reports about four children senselessly shot in Toronto over the past month, some seemingly for the fun of it, some just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is disturbing when reading about the dystopic gang violence in Flashback, similar to that you see in the movie “A Clockwork Orange” (which could just as easily be accused of political bias).
Yes, it is thought provoking. As bias as it is, the exaggeration of certain social issues carried to their dysfunctional conclusion has to give us pause to think. Certain aspects of Liberal political philosophy have a negative underbelly. While it is noble to have universal health care and to want to take care of the less fortunate in our society, there’s still a right and a wrong way to do that. To do it inefficiently and with a complete disregard for fiscal responsibility, is the wrong way, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way. Capitalism has a negative, ugly underbelly as well. We see it in the greed of financial institutions and the exploitation of workers by big businesses. But that doesn’t mean that the basic principles of Capitalism need to be thrown out, like the baby with the bath water.
The critical issue is not Liberalism or Capitalism. It is the way it is done. If both are done with opportunism and greed, both will fail. If each are done with integrity and with reasonable boundaries, they will yield success. That is the difference between the U.S. and Canada. The reasonable boundaries that we’ve put on Capitalism, and that we need to use more of with regard to Liberal entitlement issues is what has allowed us to weather the economic woes of the past five years with greater success. We don’t want to be more like the U.S. Look at the consequences.
This is what Simmons totally fails to address in his book, Flashback. In that regard it is a shallow book. However, if you suspend that judgement, it is a thought provoking and engaging read. The story and mystery are well done. Simmons is not the first SF author to explore this kind of dystopia.
I would give this book a B+.