Review: Triggers

by Robert J. Sawyer

Gollancz, out April 26

The attempted assassination of the President of the United States has far-reaching consequences for the future of humanity…

Robert J. Sawyer’s science fiction isn’t the type that lends itself to multi-billion-dollar film adaptations, with hordes of computer generated special effects, and robots and monsters battling it out using Earth as a battleground. It’s the fiction of ideas, taking the world that we live in now and moving it forward to a logical conclusion. It uses Hollywood movies, The Flintstones and Star Trek to make its points (and there’s a lovely nod to the FlashForward TV series in these pages). It involves people whose strengths and weaknesses we recognise, because they’re ours.

The key scientific breakthrough at the heart of Triggers means that a combination of an electromagnetic pulse and an attempt to deal with difficult memories somehow leads to a group of people starting to share the memories of others who were physically close to them. And when one of those people is the President of the United States, who is harbouring a terrible secret, then there are massive national security implications.

While you don’t start a Sawyer novel expecting a Transformers-style punch-up, that’s not to say that Triggers doesn’t have its action quotient. It  fully justifies the title of  a techno-thriller, as the secret service firstly try to discover who was behind the attempted assassination, and then who might be able to read the President’s mind. There are chases and stand-offs, terrorist threats, bombs and hostage situations. But they are never allowed to dominate the novel, because Triggers is also a medical drama, with many of the legal ramifications of medical accidents discussed. And it’s a love story, as people learn that barriers are sometimes things that we simply create for ourselves.

It’s also a treatise on memory, identity, and perception. How well do we really know ourselves or others? As with his recent WWW trilogy, Sawyer has the knack of wrapping up interesting intellectual debates in the dialogue between his characters in such a way that, at least for the vast majority of the time, it doesn’t feel as if the reader is being lectured. There’s a lovely shortcut that the conceits of this book permit during these scenes (“as you know” dialogue has never been so aptly named!) and you come away with a lot of new viewpoints and ideas to think about.

In passing, Sawyer references the end of Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the false dawn seen in that; Triggers concludes with what you really have to hope is a possible real dawn for humanity.

Verdict: Not to be missed.  9/10

Paul Simpson

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