My Year of Little Reading has yielded the following tragedy: I don’t even have a short list for Best Book of the Year, but, for the first time, I have an unequivocal Worst Book of the Year.
This is quite possibly the worst book I have ever bothered to read in its entirety. I counted myself a Dan Simmons fan after The Terror and Drood; earlier this year I struggled a bit through Black Hills, which I found a little dull, but I still found myself recommending it to people I thought might be interested. The most generous response I had to Flashback was to wonder whether Dan Simmons had had a stroke–no, seriously–and to be genuinely concerned about his mental and physical health. As a work of fiction in the hardboiled future-cop vein, the book is hackneyed and unoriginal. Every character is a sketch of a caricature. Not only do the Japanese characters confuse their Rs and Ls, but the main character notes how funny it is. REPEATEDLY. The book relies on interior monologue and dialogue not only to lay out but to repeat, absurdly, the translation of post-apocalyptic mid-21st-century culture into terms its (apparently severely challenged) early 21st-century readers will understand. “‘But where are you going to going to come up with five million new bucks, or the equivalent of a thousand old dollars? No one has had that kind of money lying around since the extravagant entitlements spending of the early twenty-first century led the Arabs to nuke Israel,’ he said. ‘Now I have to go see a guy at Coors Field Detention Center, which used to be Coors Field, as in the local baseball stadium, you know, back when it was that, which it is not now. You know, because of the orientals.'” I just made that sentence up, but there is a good chance it appears verbatim in the book. I am simply not exaggerating here.
As a piece of political propaganda, the book is repetitive, shrill, impressively racist, and, again, unoriginal. More than anything, it is an account of how we castrated America. Unequivocally: the “extravagant entitlements spending” (this phrase does in fact appear repeatedly throughout) of a certain first African American president drove the US economy into the ground; Canadian multiculturalism allowed the Muslim horde to invade North America; and, I don’t know, a bunch of other nutty crap lifted directly from the Fox News stream, like the imposition of wind turbines and socialized health care, thus, it really sucks to be a white guy thirty years from now, except in the utopia of Texas, which, having seceded from the emasculated Union, has preserved the American dream of free enterprise, no taxes, and conquering Mexico. I suppose it is kind of remarkable that the book manages to cover *every* pet peeve of the hysterical right-wing media, giving its half-baked characters plenty of time for mental meandering during their life-or-death, high stakes adventures, so they can contemplate the ways ethnic studies ruined college, environmentalists ruined industry, stupid “modernist” architects ruined that new building in downtown Boulder, and liberals ruined everything. There is an aged “left wing professor” (i.e. he taught literature and his third wife was a black woman named Nubia, no, FOR REAL) who is installed for the distinct purpose of contemplating all the ways his beliefs turned out to be utterly, devastatingly wrong about anything he ever had a liberal thought about. The narrative gives him a second chance after allowing him to confess that in his heart of hearts he would have liked to see a certain former president of the early part of the century and his administration “strung up by their necks in Washington” (NOT MAKING THIS UP); he uses this chance to fully embrace his Jewishness and recolonize the Middle East (the whole thing this time) as part of a second wave Zionism.
There’s all this other stuff but there is no point in going on.
One might call it a bold move to frame such a delusional piece of work, however incoherently, as the ass’s dream of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think boldness is merely the unintended effect of writerly incompetence here. I did think, at one point, that the only thing that could redeem this book was if it ended, “And then Rush Limbaugh woke up, grinning. He was a very bad man.” Spoiler: it does not. Maybe I was dreaming that Simmons’s other books were good. I don’t think I can bring myself to read him again.
I have ten days left to read, friends. Save 2012.