Wednesday, March 3, 2010

not flash enough for television?

Niki Bruce reviews the original source of a TV show and finds it very different.

CURRENTLY showing on Channel 5, the Flashforward TV series is based on the book by the same name, but with major plot differences, by Robert J Sawyer.

Although the basic premise – that something causes people around the world to pass out and dream about jumping forward in time – is the same in the book and the series, substantial details are not.

Most notably, the central characters in the book version are physicists based at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider, in Switzerland. In the TV version, the central characters are much more exciting – FBI agents based in Los Angeles.

All of this, to my mind, actually takes away from Sawyer's very interesting storyline and also, quite horribly, destroys the whole premise that is the 'flash forward' phenomenon.

Basically in the book, the flash forward occurs because of an experiment with the Hadron Collider, it is the cause of the action that is the basis of the story. In the TV show the reason behind why the flash forward occurs is something to do with an experiment at Stanford University.

This is where the show's producers have given a token nod to Sawyer's book – the character at Stanford is called Dr. Lloyd Simcoe, much reduced from his central role in the original version. Obviously the TV guys didn't think a series with a balding, 40-something physicist working in Switzerland would be a ratings winner.

And this is also why the TV is nonsensical. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for fantasy and science fiction with crazy plots and unbelievable storylines, but they should make some sort of basic sense.

In Sawyer's book, there are great swathes of physics, paragraphs on mathematics and philosophy and also musings about guilt and personal choice – all of which give the reader something more meaty to think on.

Would you really want to know the future if you knew you were going to be dead? Or working in a dead-end job, married to the wrong person or not married to the person you now love?

Or, on the other hand, would you want to know the future if it could tell you what you should be studying now? Or could tell you how your children are going to turn out; or could let you know that you'll be happily married to the person you love?

Sawyer's version of Flashforward is more philosophical, it's more complex and detailed, and naturally enough, that's not good TV.

Admittedly the producers of the show say that it is 'loosely based' on Sawyer's book, but from what I've seen the two entities are on opposite sides of the entertainment universe.

I suppose what is most annoying is that the name is the same. And the publishers of the book, Gollancz, are pitching it as being linked to the TV series, which is doing quite well around the world.

This is rather disingenuous, as the TV show is really nothing like the book and it looks more like the publisher is simply trying to travel on the coattails of the show, which is in some way demeaning for the novel which deserves better.

If you enjoy juicy technical science fiction rather than TV-land pap, go for Sawyer's version. You won't be disappointed and you'll learn things about physics that you would never have imagined.

Flashforward by Robert J Sawyer is published by Gollancz and is available from good book stores and online.

First published on The Straits Times blogs on November 17, 2009



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