As this is the inaugural post in the ALOBAM series, I wanted to explain a few things. First, ALOBAM stands for “At Least One Book A Month”, meaning that each month I want to review at least one book. Second, most of the books I’ll read are science fiction, because that’s where my interests lie. I may include some non-fiction books in the future, but we’ll see how this goes first. Finally, my reviews will be broken into stages of various spoiler levels, allowing people to read a review at their comfort level, perhaps even reading it in parallel with the book.
Triggers is the 21st book written by Robert J. Sawyer, a highly acclaimed and multiple award winning speculative fiction author. I’ve read all of his works and enjoyed them all, so fans of the great Canadian writer will not be disappointed. It also provides a very fast-paced and thrilling story, which is different from what he usually writes, but is done beautifully. Further, the book deals with present day (or given the context of the story, November 2012 after the most recent presidential election) so there’s no spaceships, aliens, or much else to overcome. The only science that’s touched on is a bit of quantum physics and how the brain works, but it’s explained well enough that it’s easy to pick up. All in all, I give it an 8 out of 10.
The inside cover says the president is shot and that a terrorist bomb detonates while he’s in surgery; what it doesn’t say is these events happen within one day. The entirety of the book spans only three days, with the majority transpiring on the first day, making for a much faster pace than I initially realized. Further, the chapters are small with 51 chapters spanning 338 pages, which is a marked change from other SF books with 20 page chapters. It’s a good meld of the science fiction and thriller genres.
As a Robert J. Sawyer fan, I was very pleased with his newest book. Every time I get one of his books, it’s very hard to put it down and I’ll often read them in a day, staying up into the night. The same was true of this book, but there were still two things that I was disappointed by coming as a long time reader.
First, the novel strongly overlapped with his other novel Mindscan in regards to the science he used because both dealt with conciousness transfer and quantum entanglement. One of the things I always look forward to in science fiction is learning new science, and this is the only time I’ve read one of his novels and not had that craving satisfied.
Second, I had an idea of what was going to happen at the end of the novel by about page 60, and this suspicion only grew as I read more. The build to the finale was beautiful to experience though, and it went in a slightly different way than I thought, but the core idea was still there. I was a bit let down by the lack of a twist, something I thoroughly enjoyed at the end of his WWW Trilogy, Golden Fleece, or many of his other novels. Still, even knowing where it was headed, I loved the journey.
The characters are very well developed and have their own stories, which they need because we’re reading their minds, all 21 of them. Some characters are only mentioned briefly as we track down the chain of the affected, but the ones that stay are the most interesting. I loved seeing how everyone interacted and began understanding how other people see the world, slowly building bonds between each other and working together. I really enjoyed seeing people use the mind links as a tactical advantage, asking people to read each other to find out if there were a threat to national security, what they were planning to do with the link, or even just scoring a date.
One thing I noticed in Sawyer’s WWW Trilogy was how he started with multiple unrelated threads and then wove them together in the end (with one notable exception I’ll comment on some other time). Triggers follows a similar pattern, because even though we discard some of the characters as the story progresses, the ones we stay with continue to be important in surprising ways.
I didn’t like the anticlimatic nature of learning about CounterPunch. In any other Sawyer novel, I feel that discovery would have warranted more serious contemplation, but here it felt lighter than what Kadeem Adams witnessed in Iraq with the dead babies. That was given a lot of weight, and when the President is once again addressed with the question of if he should go through with CounterPunch, he uses the argument in reverse. Instead of saying “I can’t let any more babies die in war,” he instead concludes “I can’t let any more US soldiers put their lives in risk, to see such atrocities like that. As a superpower, I have to crush this rebellion completely.” I can understand both sides, but I am surprised it didn’t weaken his resolve at any point.
I did enjoy the final solution to CounterPunch though, and how the situation increased in intensity. The whole story arc of the connected minds and how they changed was very well executed, and although I knew the connections would grow to more than first order and probably end in a group mind, I loved hearing the story. Sometimes it’s not about a twist ending but enjoying the journey, and on that I applaud Robert J. Sawyer. It was a wonderful ride.