Geneva, 2012. When a Russian intelligence officer approaches MI5 with vital information about the imminent cyber-sabotage of an Anglo-American Defence programme, he refuses to talk to anyone but Liz Carlyle. But who is he, and what is his connection to the British agent?
At a tracking station in Nevada, US Navy officers watch in horror as one of their unmanned drones plummets out of the sky, and panic spreads through the British and American Intelligence services. Is this a Russian plot to disable the West's defences? Or is the threat coming from elsewhere?
It's always intriguing, who or what will be the next threats that espionage writers can employ in their thrillers. I'm not sure what it says about the world that we live in but there does seem to be no shortage of possible scenarios and nefarious goings-on to occupy the intelligence world. THE GENEVA TRAP is the 7th book in the Liz Carlyle series, and the main plot elements, as you'd expect from a writer with Rimington's background, have a ring of truth and absolutely credibility about them.
Liz is a very strong character. Strong enough to survive this particular reader's tendency to wander around in this series, as there are a few books that I've missed. Most obviously, it's her personal life that I'm behind with, but at no stage did I really get lost or feel at sea. Which was particularly pleasing as there is a sub-plot in THE GENEVA TRAP which involves her mother's partner, his daughter, Liz's own partner, a French commune, and the possibility of armed protest and personal violence.
Not everything, however, worked perfectly, particularly some of the technicalities of computer hacking. Now granted I'm not as technically expert as some around me, but there were elements in the "techy talk" that simply didn't make any sense, and lacked credibility. To the point where I had to give myself a little "it's fiction - get over it" talking to at one point. Nitpicking undoubtedly, but it did make those parts of the book hard to swallow. What wasn't so hard to chew was the spy craft, right down to the surveillance aspects, the not quite as clandestine as required meetings in parks, generational sleeper agents and all the other covert goings on.
There's good pace and action, some very nice twists and turns and a complicated but clever plot that does pull everything together in a believable finale, although that's tempered a little by some very stereotypical villains and the requisite inept upper echelons. But THE GENEVA TRAP, and the whole Liz Carlyle series are very much espionage based thrillers, and despite a few minor quibbles, this was a book that was hard to put down.
FLASHFORWARD - Robert J. Sawyer
Even with no one at the helm, the world continues to turn. Time for chaos to take over, and so it reigns triumphant. For two paralysing minutes, humanity checks out of the present and shoots frighteningly into its own future.
The ABC tv series has prompted the re-release of the paperback but has little resemblance to the events of 2009 that Sawyer created.
The best science fiction novels will always have you firmly believing in the writer's vision of our future world. It is a given that there will be some hellishly dire warning as to where humanity will head if it trips merrily along its current path of debauchery and selfishness. Science fiction offers up all the cool stuff like great technology and at best, grounds this reality from whatever stage of advancement the world is at as the novel is written (which would be 1999 for FLASHFORWARD).
It is interesting to compare how we are now, to how Sawyer thought we might be a decade into the future. A layman's knowledge of quarks, the shelf life of a Supernova and the behaviours of neutrinos etc and suchlike might have been of valuable assistance to understanding what it is that causes the Flashforward, and it may be this aspect of the read that will appeal to the little space geek hidden inside of you anyway. (CERN's real life website will be helpful here ).
As the novel is multi perspective (necessary for a novel where catastrophes occur on a global scale) we are privy to the immediate after reactions of the scientists who work together at CERN, and how their lives spiral outwards from that couple of minutes when the whole conscious world goes bye-bye.
It's an incredible premise that is not fully explored and the complexities of space and technology swamp the human interactions in this novel. This does not necessarily detract from the read, however it strips away opportunities for possible morality explorations and "survivor" personal angst on a grand scale. FLASHFORWARD will make its readers question themselves - it is quite impossible not to project yourself right into this story. Is it best not to know your own future, so as to not consciously steer your life towards what may or not be a fixed path - one that was always going to be determined by your own actions?
FLASHFORWARD has enormous potential throughout the book but with such upward momentum, anything less than an apocalyptic conclusion might only serve as a let down. It is easy to see why this novel is so awarded and highly regarded in science fiction circles. Having every person on earth facing the same dilemma is an ambitious premise for a novel. The ideas are put out there with a lot of theorizing left to the reader - and perhaps that was always the intention.