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'Triggers' right on target

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Too often, when people think about science fiction, their minds immediately go to aliens and far-flung futures and worlds far different than our own. Yes, there is plenty of that, but sci-fi is at its core a genre steeped in ideas.

Robert J. Sawyer understands that. His 'WWW' trilogy is an excellent example of this sort of idea-driven fiction, set in an alternate present that resembles our own in so many ways. His newest book, 'Triggers' (Ace, $25.95), is set in a similar world, although the obstacles to be faced are both smaller and much larger.

President Seth Jerrison is giving a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial when he is struck down by an assassin's bullet. Secret Service agent Susan Dawson, along with a number of her colleagues, rush the President to the nearby hospital where Dr. Eric Redekop awaits to perform the surgery that hopefully will save Jerrison's life.

At the same time, Professor Ranjip Singh is in the midst of an experiment. He has built a device that he believes can erase traumatic memories, and with the help of a PTSD-stricken Army private named Kadeem Adams, he is attempting to prove it.

And then a terrorist bomb blows up the White House.

The associated electromagnetic pulse plays havoc with the hospital's equipment and throws everyone into a panic. President Jerrison nearly dies on the table; when he returns, the memories that flash through his head belong to someone else.

The energies of Professor Singh's device, twisted and amplified by the bomb's EMP, have created links between the minds of an unknown number of people. Each of these individuals can access the memories of one other individual, though the links are not reciprocal, meaning that one of these people can know anything that the President of the United States knows and no one knows who that person is.

With a top-secret military operation mere days away, can the puzzle of who is connected to who be solved before something happens to compromise national security? Especially if more than one of the people involved has something to hide

First and foremost, Robert J. Sawyer is a rip-roaring good storyteller. This tale of quantum psychological intrigue is no different. It's a science-fiction novel, to be sure, but in many ways, it is also a political thriller. And like a political thriller, there's a fairly large cast. The danger there is too many underdeveloped characters, but Sawyer fleshes out his dramatis personae quite effectively.

But again, science fiction is the fiction of ideas and Robert Sawyer's got some. His work often displays a fascination with the nature of consciousness, and 'Triggers' is no different. What role does memory play in defining what we do and who we are? It's human nature to keep secrets what if there was someone out there from whom you literally could not keep a secret? And another person who could not keep secrets from you? Our minds are our safe havens; Sawyer shows us what might happen if a stranger kicked open the door and let themselves in.

'Triggers' operates on both a global and a personal scale sometimes simultaneously. By juxtaposing the problems of the entire world with the problems of individuals, Sawyer allows each equal importance. Each of these people deals with their new knowledge in different ways and each deals with different consequences but while there is ostensibly a 'main character,' each character's experience is valued. It makes for a rich and compelling narrative.

One of the great things about reading Robert Sawyer's work is what happens after you put the book down. The ideas that he explores have a habit of sticking around. Novels that inspire real introspection and yet still manage to be entertaining are rare things, even in a genre of ideas such as sci-fi. 'Triggers' is one of those novels.

There are few authors writing today that bring such a strong combination of literate storytelling and complex ideas to the page. Robert J. Sawyer is one of the best in the business right now, and 'Triggers' is him at his finest.

Last modified on Wednesday, 04 April 2012 14:28

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