CERN, Flash Forward, and Robert Sawyer

By Phil Plait | November 29, 2009 8:00 am

[Edited to add: I didn’t consider this when I wrote the post, since the book makes things a lot clearer than the TV show, but this post kinda sorta has spoilers for the TV show "FlashForward". If you are watching the show or want to, best not to read this post. I loathe it when people don’t warn me about spoilers, so I sincerely apologize to anyone who read this and may have found spoilers to the show.]

Earlier this year, I spent a few days in Wyoming attending Launch Pad, a NASA-sponsored workshop for science fiction writers to help familiarize themselves with astronomy. It’s run by Mike Brotherton, himself an astronomer and science fiction author. It’s a great way for writers to learn more science, and pass it on to their readers.

While I was there I got to hang out with a lot of very cool people (Joe Haldeman! Scott Sigler!), and meet other writers I’ve known through their writing (but not IRL) for years.

At the time, Robert Sawyer’s name was familiar to me, but I hadn’t yet read any of his stuff. After Launch Pad, I remedied that: I read his Neanderthal stories, as well as a book called Flash Forward, about an accident at CERN that causes everyone on Earth to get a glimpse of their future years hence.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s been made into a TV show on ABC. I don’t have a lot of time to watch TV but I made sure I watched "FlashForward". I like it! Different than the book, but interesting nonetheless.

Science comedian Brian Malow (also a Launch Pad attendee) interviewed Robert about the book and show for Time Magazine:

There’s also a longer interview on the CERN site, too. And if you get a chance to watch the show, take a look. I hear it’s on hiatus right now, but I’m hoping it comes back soon. I’m enjoying it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Geekery, Science, SciFi, TV/Movies

Comments (34)

Links to this Post

  1. Apocalypse CERN « CERN Love | January 29, 2010
  1. phunk

    Spoiler alert! Not all of us have read the book, and the TV show hasn’t told us the CERN connection yet!

  2. m5

    The first two pages of the book describe the CERN labs its not much a spoiler

  3. sophia8

    I’ve stopped watching it. I stuck with it for six episodes, but it just seems to be going nowhere. Bits of action and plot exposition get flung in, only to be totally ignored thereafter. Plus the two leads are utterly wooden. Wake me up when they find out what caused the mass flash forward, please.
    I’ve just started watching a BBC production called Paradox. It has a fairly similar plot – people see the future, can they change it? It’s equally hokum and if Phil ever gets to see it, I’m sure he’ll have great fun dissecting the science, and the way that scientists are represented. But it only lasts for five episodes, so at least I won’t be signing up to watch an episode every week for the next decade, as Flash Forward is threatening to do.

  4. John

    The Neanderthal series was great, but my favorite book by Sawyer was “Calculating God.” You should give it a try.

  5. Gary Ansorge

    Perhaps one of the neatest premises in Forward is, if we knew the end result (what we’ll be doing in six months) w/o knowing all the steps to get there, can knowing that end result predispose us to achieving ONLY that resultant?

    I love watching all the wriggling people do to either make the future they’ve seen happen or try to avoid it. I’m really looking forward to the series development.

    One of the cooler aspects of this show is that there is no blowie/uppie going on(hugh explosions occurring for no particular reason) and no special effects required. It’s mostly about how the people react to this sudden increase in complexity in their lives.

    That’s called literature.(the human heart in conflict with itself).

    So far? Four stars.

    GAry 7

  6. I’ve been reading his books since Golden Fleece. Great stuff. I’d really like to see a big screen treatment of Hominids, Humans and Hybrids.

  7. Douglas Troy

    Unlike other posters, I have rather enjoyed FlashForward. There are few good TV shows on these days, and I count FlashForward as the single best Science Fiction show to date (for 2009). I find that the show leads to a good bit of thought provoking situations:
    – If you could see the future, does that mean you can change it?
    – If you knew you killed someone in the future, would you take your own life to stop it?
    – If you thought you were going to die, what would you do to stop it?

    I had very brief hopes for the TV show Fringe, but they should have named it the Olivia Dunham show, because it has more to do with her than anything else; if it wasn’t for Walter, I would have stopped watching after the second episode, because Anna Torv can’t act worth a darn.

    Other shows like Heroes, Eureka and Sanctuary, while they are SciFi shows, are more of the “Unplug your brain and just have fun” type of shows, they aren’t in the same camp, and while I enjoy them from time-to-time, I cannot compare them with the likes of FlashForward. Although I will admit, if it weren’t for Brea Grant, I might have stopped watching Heroes as well … course, I’m a whole season and a half behind what’s on TV right now, so if they do away with her, I probably will stop watching, because … well … the writers of that show just seem lost.

    Having said that, if anyone in the crowd would like to recommend a show they feel is in the same “group” as FlashForward that they like or like better, please make suggestions …

    Thanks for sharing the video linkage there Phil, it was good.

  8. I’m not sure that I’ve ever read a book by Robert Sawyer that wasn’t a “must read”. Calculating God is a particular favorite.

  9. I thought Flash Forward was going to be a great show. It has a great premise, BUT, after a strong start, it seems to be going absolutely nowhere. It seems as if the writers don`t know which way to take the story. I had read that it is only loosely based upon the book.

  10. Darren Garrison
  11. The first Sawyer I read was the Neanderthal Parallax (Hominids, Humans, Hybrids), then on to FlashForward, MindScan, Calculating God, Rollback, and the first of his new WWW trilogy: Wake. (waiting for parts 2 and 3).

    He is one of my regular ‘searches’ for any books I’ve missed. (Others include Harry Turtledove, Joe Haldeman)


  12. squirrelelite

    On a related note, I remember reading a book or story several years ago where an accident at a working Superconducting Supercollider in Texas in a parallel universe causes effects at the shut down SSC in our universe.

    Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name or author of the book right now.

    Perhaps someone else does.

  13. Gary Ansorge

    I’ve begun to notice something about the creative people I admire. They tend to have certain things in common:

    1)Big heads
    2) little hair
    3)bright eyes(Look! All the lights are on and everybody is at home(from Robin Williams))

    Gee. Could there be a PATTERN here?

    GAry 7
    PS. by this criteria, I’m a throw back to prehistoric times,,,well, except for the big head and bright eyes,,,

  14. Narenek

    Robert Sawyer capable of only one facial expression shock :

  15. Robert J. Sawyer’s novel Frameshift is a great read!

    Stay inspired!

  16. AJ

    Dang Phil! That was a serious spoiler (CERN connection) for the tv series…some of us probably never knew there was a book (to get the storyline from). (kinda just ruined the show just a little bit for me.)

    Though, the way the tv series is going, possibly not all of the punchline to the plot, but still.

    Dang Phil, dang.

  17. Charles

    For squirrelelite [12]

    I believe the book you’re looking for is Einstein’s Bridge by John Cramer

  18. Magnum

    Thanks for letting us know what caused the flash forward 😆

    I download the show (tsk tsk) and play it on my PC, if it gets a bit boring I unmaximise the playback window and surf the web. The show isn’t too bad, there are some good parts.

  19. MB

    Dammit Phil! You can’t put in a spoiler alert??

  20. C Murdock

    Nice to see there are other people who have been enjoying FlashForward. However, unfortunately after next week’s episode the show is being put on temporary hiatus. :-(

  21. Jamie

    For those worrying about spoilers, having both read the book and watching the series, the fact that CERN was involved with the Flashforward, in the book, is established in the first few pages.

    As for the TV show, since there are significant differences between the show and the book, there is no way of even knowing if the show creators are keeping the cause of the Flashforward the same.

    So don’t worry about spoilers. :)

  22. Alex

    There is no reason why there is necessarily a CERN connection for the TV series. They’ve taken the basic concept of a flashfoward, but nothing else seems to be the same. The book has a flashfoward of several decades, the TV series has 6 months, none of the characters are the same, and the causes of the flashfoward seem to be different between the two (deliberately vague to avoid spoilers).

  23. StevoR

    As an aspiring SF author I love the sound of that workshop! Sounds awesome. 8)

    I’d be interested in seeing an SF story written by Brian Cox or the BA – any thoughts of possiblly writing some non-fiction too, Dr Plait? 😉

    I know a few scientists who have written great SF – Isaac Asimov (Foundation series, Robot series, Nemesis & hundreds more) , Fred Hoyle (The Black Cloud), Hal Clement (Mission of Gravity) Carl Sagan (Cosmos) and Robert L. Forward (Flight of the Dragonfly, Dragon’s Egg, Starquake to name a few.

    Incidentally at least two astronauts Buzz Aldrin (Encounter with Tiber) and Scott Carpenter (Mercury-7 original 7 –The Steel Albatross) have also written or co-written SF novels too. :-)

  24. StevoR

    Sadly I guess I should clarify that know here = read & loved their books not know them personally.

    Although I feel a bit like I do know them as individuals from some of their books in some cases, eg. Isaac Asimov who, for those who don’t already know, was a professor of biochemistry at Boston university.

    See :

    See also :

    .. & it turns out Hal Clement was a science teacher according to

    – although I’d always thought he was an astrophysicist. Oh well.

    I’ll also add that some of the authors I named – Isaac Asimov, Fred Hoyle & Carl Sagan most famously – also wrote popular science books discussing and explaining science fact as well.

    Can’t see any reason why the BA can’t also write SF and popular sience too like them! If, of course, he so desires … I’d love to see what he comes up with fiction wise too just as I’ve loved both his books so far! :-)

  25. squirrelelite

    Thanks, Charles.

  26. Johno

    Your wikipedia link is bad. The final fullstop/period shouldn’t be in the link.

  27. Jeffrey

    I too had high hopes for FlashForward, though haven’t read the books.

    The issue I’m having with it how the characters are taking a view that the future is immutable, while on the other hand none of their flashforwards have any evidence that the flashfowards took place in their future selves past…. The board of evidence is the worst case of this — assuming that something is a clue JUST because it was seen in the future on their board of evidence

  28. Ginger Yellow

    “There is no reason why there is necessarily a CERN connection for the TV series. They’ve taken the basic concept of a flashfoward, but nothing else seems to be the same. ”

    Well, no. But some of the people who claim to be behind the blackout event are European (ie British) scientists who keep talking about their experiment. So a CERN connection is certainly possible. It’s all Brian Cox’s fault!

  29. Andrew Martens

    I’m a big fan of Robert J. Sawyer’s books. He’s a fantastic science fiction writer!

    When FlashForward was finally being made into a TV series, I was quite excited – until I saw how it was playing out as some kind of FBI/mystery thing with some nefarious bad guys who must be stopped. It’s an unfortunate departure from the book itself, where I tended to enjoy the science and metaphysical discussions.

    I’ve been letting my HTPC record the series for me, though. If reports of it get better, I’ll go back and keep watching where I left off a few episodes in.

  30. BILL7718

    From the show (from memory):

    “Have you ever heard of the double-slit experiment?”

    “Well, there was this one time in college…”

    “How about Shrodinger’s Cat?”

    “I’m not THAT kinky!”

  31. Freya

    Yeah, I would’ve appreciated a spoiler alert too. First off, it’s not mentioned upfront in the series, and even people who want to read the novel can’t necessarily get their hands on it easily (or are in the middle of finals week, etc, etc). It’s not like Harry Potter where it’s been so widely read and publicised that “Dumbledore dies!” has gone from a spoiler to a strange sort of joke.

  32. My apologies to everyone. I just added a spoiler alert to the post. Having read the book, which really does make it clear what’s what on the very first page, and with the show already at the point where the connections were being made, I initially didn’t think a spoiler alert was needed. I guess that was premature, so again, my apologies.

  33. Andrew

    I’ve only just begun watching Flash Forward but I’m really enjoying it. I’m pretty bummed that this was cancelled. It was one of the most innovative shows I’ve seen in some time. Somehow I missed it while it was airing and came across it while using DISH Network’s new streaming site: dishonline. As an employee of DISH I was pretty excited when the site went live and I started browsing the massive amount of content.


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