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Bookends: Many Triggers propel this Story at Top Speed October 24, 2012

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Many Triggers propel this Story at Top Speed

By Dan Davidson

July 25, 2012, Star,       July 27/12

– 845 words –

Triggers

By Robert J. Sawyer

Viking

342 pages

$30.00

– 824 words –

 

Given that Rob Sawyer’s last few stand-alone novels have involved various permutations on questions of identity and memory (Mindscan and Rollback), while his WWW trilogy (Wake, Watch and Wonder) dealt with the emergence of a planetary artificial intelligence based in the Internet, it should not have come as a surprise that his latest book, Triggers, would deal with both memory and a different sort of planetary intelligence.

This one is based on a rather novel version of telepathy, one that comes about quite by accident and involves a fairly large cast of characters.

That opening sentence fragment ”THIS is how we began …” taken together with the “E pluribus unum” quotation just before page one should have been enough of a hint to tell me where this story was going to go. That’s enough of a spoiler right there, and it’s not my fault if he telegraphed the ending in the first five words.

Sawyer has been crafty though. After the tight cast of characters in his trilogy, he has expanded the cast in this book into one that almost needs a list of dramatis personae and has literally begun the story with a bang. That means a lot of changing scenes and viewpoints and a very busy book that chugs along in just a few days.

Susan Dawson is just one of the viewpoint characters in the book. She is a Secret Service agent charged with protecting the President of the United States. It is on her watch that the President is gunned down, though not killed, during a major policy speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial. This event sends him to a nearby hospital, which is where he is when the secondary terrorist attack of the day blows up the White House.

Yes, this is a book set just a few years in our future, where the War on Terror has been just as much a failure as the War on Drugs and where disaffected US citizens are the biggest national security problem.

That President Seth Jerrison is at Luther Terry Memorial Hospital is crucial to what happens next. Another patient in the hospital is undergoing an experimental procedure to wipe out the memories that are giving him combat flashbacks from his tour of duty in the Middle East. The procedure is under way when the bomb at the White House goes off, with the result that the machine malfunctions due to the EMP flash, and causes twenty-one people within the range of the bubble of its effect to have their minds linked.

It’s an unusual link. Each person is connected to one other person, and it’s not exactly mind reading that the effect produces. What happens is that person A gets all the memories of person B, while person B may get everything from person E and so on. It’s not a reciprocal transfer of memories (which updates as new memories are formed), so it takes some time to figure out who got access to whom. This is particularly crucial because someone is now sharing a link with the President and the events of this day are about to trigger a military response, which is supposed to be a top secret.

Much of the book is about how the various members of the cast react to and cope with their new ability, which some see as a blessing and some as a curse. The link has a tremendous impact on the lives of those who are affected. Some of it is about the search for the person with the link to the President. Some of it is about using that link to solve the mystery of who the assassin and the bomber were.

In fact, this book moves pretty much like a thriller, and keeps the reader so busy that we have little time to think about what is implied by that first sentence I mentioned.

There are many triggers in Sawyer’s book. There is the trigger on the assassin’s rifle, the one that sets off the bomb, the electromagnetic pulse that triggers the memory linkages, the other numerous acts that trigger memory retrieval, and the way in which the effect is passed on.

In the WWW trilogy Sawyer assumed that that the World Wide Web could reach a certain critical mass of information and acquire consciousness, an event called “the Singularity”. Near the end of this book, he refutes that idea in favour of another scenario.

“What partisans of the Singularity had glossed over,” thinks Susan Dawson, “was that the machines were not getting more intelligent as time went on; they had zero intelligence and no consciousness, and no matter how fast they got at crunching numbers, they were still empty.”

In WWW Sawyer had Webmind acquire a sort of universal consciousness through its accidental contact with a human mind. Triggers offers a different sort of answer to the question.

Rob Sawyer was a resident at Berton House in the summer of 2007.

 

 

-30-

 

 

 

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