The new Dan Simmons novel Flashback, is a fascinating, wild, and disturbing tale, set in the USA — bouncing between Denver and Los Angeles — in the year 2036. As the back cover blurb states: “Terrorism and ultra-violence plague a once powerful society, whose only escape is to numb itself on flashback; a euphoric yet cripplingly addictive regression drug.”
In this novel, set barely two decades in the future, the US is being governed by Japanese, American armed forces are fighting in China —- on the side of Japan, most sports stadiums (such as Coors Field in Denver) have been turned into federal prisons, shopping malls have become glorified housing projects, Texas has declared its independence, most commuters now ride bikes to work, and basically all hell is breaking loose around the country. And those are only a few of the outlandish scenarios in this novel. But the more the chapters pass, you start to wonder: will any of this stuff really come true?
Toward the end of the book, on page 482, there is an out-of-the-blue reference to Thailand in one chapter. One of the characters has fallen ill and is given medical treatment by a Thai doctor living in Denver. Here’s an excerpt:
Dr. Tak’s real name was Sudaret Jatisripitak but everyone in the mall called him Dr. Tak. He’d fled from Thailand during their last “Thai Rak Thai” (Thais Love Thais) revolution that had killed a fifth of the nation’s population and found that he could make a decent living, without being medically certified in the United States, simply by giving black market medical care to the few thousand residents of the Cherry Creek Mall Condominiums.
The scary thing is that the writer’s prediction of a fifth of Thailand’s population perishing in a Thai Rak Thai battle isn’t so far-fetched. Judging from the last Red Shirt “protest” — which was more akin to a state of siege as Red Shirt hoodlums set up camps and held central Bangkok hostage for nearly three months — an even more bloody confrontation isn’t that remote a possibility. The colored-shirt political divide here in the kingdom is as entrenched as it ever was, with no signs that unity anywhere in sight.
While Flashback is a very entertaining and thought provoking novel, there is also a disturbing right-wing slant to some parts of the book. Take this passage, where a Japanese mafia character is lecturing an American detective who he has hired to investigate the murder of his son:
“More than twenty years ago,” said Nakamura, “a group of my fellow Nipponese businessmen and myself watched as your new young president gave a speech from Cairo that flattered the Islamic world — a bloc of Islamic nations that had not yet coalesced into today’s Global Caliphate — and praised them with obvious historical distortions of their won imagined grandeur. This president began the process of totally rewriting history and contemporary reality with an eye toward praising radical Islam into loving him and your country. The name for this form of foreign policy, whenever it is used with forces of fascism, is appeasement.
This president and your country soon followed this self-mockery of a foreign policy with ever more blatant and useless appeasement, attempts at becoming a social democracy when European social democracies were beginning to collapse from debt and the burden of their entitlement programs, unilateral disarmament, withdrawal from the world stage, a betrayal of old allies, a rapid and deliberate surrendering of America’s position as a superpower, and a total retreat from international responsibilities that the United States of America had long taken seriously.”
Doesn’t sound like an Obama fan, does he? As with most right-wing arguments, they attempt to grossly simplify a complicated situation, conveniently leaving out certain facts and details. The previous tirade, for example, neglects to mention the global destruction caused by decades of American imperialism and economic blackmail (read any book by John Perkins for details on America’s alarming practices). The USA is definitely not some sort of benign, innocent party in the war on terrorism.
On the other hand, I think Western leaders HAVE shamefully tried to appease the radical Islamic element far too much, absurdly referring to Islam as a “great religion,” for example. Does anyone seriously think that most Westerners, Christians in particular, have the slightest understanding of, or respect for Islam? Bush, Cheney, Clinton, Obama, take your pick; they all speak with forked tongues. And conversely, why should any other sane individual on the planet have any respect for the loony right-wing Christians who go around trying to force their warped “morals” and bizarre doctrine on others? It’s all wrong. I remain puzzled when politicians and “concerned citizens” make pleas for religious freedom. Why should there be such “freedom” when it’s so obvious that most devout followers of religions all over the world have an extremely radical agenda with no tolerance for those who don’t believe the same as they do, all of which contributes to further hate and bloodshed. Which leads to the question: whose intolerance is justified?