Friday, October 9, 2009

From book to screen

Lots of people have commented on the ways in which the TV series FlashForward has deviated from my novel of the same name upon which it is based. And, indeed, in some ways it has, but, to me, it's still very much my story, and I'm pleased with the adaptation.

For instance, last night (in North America), the third episode, "137 Sekunden," aired, and it has a scene in which John Cho's character receives a call from a woman with unsettling news; that scene clearly traces its roots to this scene from Chapter 5 of the FlashForward novel:
Theo returned to his office, the darkness of night visible through his window. All this talk of visions was disturbing — especially since he himself hadn't had one. Could Lloyd be right? Could Theo be dead a mere twenty-one years from now? He was only twenty-seven, for God's sake; in two decades, he'd still be well shy of fifty. He didn't smoke — not much of a statement for any of the North Americans to make, but still an achievement among Greeks. He worked out regularly. Why on earth should he be dead so soon? There had to be another explanation for him having no vision.

His phone bleeped. Theo picked up the handset. "Hello?"

"Hello," said a female voice, in English. "Is this, ah, Theodosios Procopides?" She stumbled over the name.


"My name is Kathleen DeVries," said the woman. "I've been mulling over whether to phone you. I'm calling from Johannesburg."

"Johannesburg? You mean in South Africa?"

"For the time being, anyway," she said. "If the visions are to be believed, it's going to be officially renamed Azania sometime in the next twenty-one years."

Theo waited silently for her to go on. After a moment, she did. "And it's the visions that I'm calling about. You see, mine involved you."

Theo felt his heart racing. What wonderful news! Maybe he hadn't had a vision of his own for whatever reason, but this woman had seen him twenty-one years hence. Of course he had to be alive then; of course, Lloyd was wrong when he said Theo would be dead.

"Yes?" Theo said breathlessly.

"Umm, I'm sorry to have bothered you," said DeVries. "Can I — may I ask what your own vision showed?"

Theo let out air. "I didn't have one," he said.

"Oh. Oh, I am sorry to hear that. But — well, then, I guess it wasn't a mistake."

"What wasn't a mistake?"

"My own vision. I was here, in my home, in Johannesburg, reading the newspaper over dinner — except it wasn't on newsprint. It was on this thing that looked like a flat plastic sheet; some sort of computerized reader screen, I think. Anyway, the article I was reading happened to be — well, I'm sorry there's no other way to say it. It was about your death."

Theo had once read a Lord Dunsany story about a man who fervently wished to see tomorrow's newspaper today, and when he finally got his wish, was stunned to discover it contained his own obituary. The shock of seeing that was enough to kill him, news which would of course be reported in the next day's edition. That was it; that was all — a zinger, a punch line. But this ... this wasn't tomorrow's paper; it was a paper two decades hence.

"My death," repeated Theo, as though those two words had somehow been missed in his English classes.

"Yes, that's right."

Theo rallied a bit. "Look, how do I know this isn't some scam or prank?"

"I'm sorry; I knew I shouldn't have called. I'll be —"

"No, no, no. Don't hang up. In fact, please let me get your name and number. The damned call display is just showing `Out of Area.' You should let me phone you back; this call must be costing you a fortune."

"My name, as I said, is Kathleen DeVries. I'm a nurse at a senior citizens' home here." She told him her phone number. "But, really, I'm glad to pay for the call. Honestly, I don't want anything from you, and I'm not trying to trick you. But, well — look, I see people die all the time. We lose about one a week here at the home, but they're mostly in their eighties or nineties or even their hundreds. But you — you're going to be just forty-eight when you die, and that's way too young. I thought by calling you up, by letting you know, maybe you could somehow prevent your own death."

Theo was quiet for several seconds, then, "So, does the — the obituary say what I died of?" For one bizarre moment, Theo was kind of pleased that his passing had been worthy of note in international newspapers. He almost asked if the first two words in the article happened to be "Nobel laureate." "I know I should cut down on my cholesterol; was it a heart attack?"

There was silence for several seconds. "Umm, Dr. Procopides, I'm sorry, I guess I should have been more clear. It's not an obituary I was reading; it's a news story." He could hear her swallow. "A news story about your murder."

Theo fell silent. He could have repeated the word back to her incredulously. But there was no point.

He was twenty-seven; he was in good health. As he'd been thinking a few moments ago, of course he wouldn't be dead of natural causes in a mere twenty-one years. But — murder?

"Dr. Procopides? Are you still there?"

"Yes." For the time being.

"I'm — I'm sorry, Dr. Procopides. I know this must come as quite a shock."

Theo was quiet for a few moments longer, then: "The article you were reading — does it say who kills me?"

"I'm afraid not. It's an unsolved crime, apparently."

"Well, what does the article say?"

"I've written down as much of it as I remember; I can E-mail you it, but, well, here, let me read it to you. Remember, this is a reconstruction; I think it's pretty accurate, but I can't guarantee every word." She paused, cleared her throat, then went on. "The headline was, `Physicist Shot Dead.'"

Shot, thought Theo. God.

DeVries went on. "The dateline was Geneva. It said, `Theodosios Procopides, a Greek physicist working at CERN, the European center for particle physics, was found shot to death today. Procopides, who received his Ph.D. from Oxford, was director of the Tachyon-Tardyon Collider at —"

"Say that again," said Theo.

"The Tachyon-Tardyon Collider," said DeVries. She was mispronouncing "tachyon," saying it with a CH blend instead of a K sound. "I'd never heard those words before."

"There's no such collider," said Theo. "At least, not yet. Please, go on."

"... director of the Tachyon-Tardyon Collider at CERN. Dr. Procopides had been with CERN for twenty-three years. No motive has been suggested for the killing, but robbery has been ruled out, as Dr. Procopides's wallet was found on him. The physicist was apparently shot sometime between noon and 1:00 p.m. local time yesterday. The investigation is continuing. Dr. Procopides is survived by his ..."

"Yes? Yes?"

"I'm sorry, that's all it said."

"You mean your vision ended before you finished reading the article?"

There was a small silence. "Well, not exactly. The rest of the article was off-screen, and instead of touching the page-down button — I could clearly see such a button on the side of the reading device — I went on to select another article." She paused. "I'm sorry, Dr. Procopides. I — the 2009 me — was interested in what the rest of the story said, but the 2030 version didn't seem to care. I did try to will her — to will me — to touch the page-down control, but it didn't work."

"So you don't know who killed me, or why?"

"I am sorry."

"And the paper you were reading — you're sure that it was the then-current one? You know, the October 23, 2030, one."

"Actually, no. There was a — what would you call it? A status line? There was a status line at the top of the reader that said the date and the name of the paper quite prominently: The Johannesburg Star, Tuesday, October 22, 2030. So I guess it was yesterday's paper, so to speak." She paused. "I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news."

Theo was quiet for a time, trying to digest all this. It was hard enough dealing with the fact that he might be dead in a mere twenty years, but the idea that someone might kill him was almost too much to bear.

"Ms. DeVries, thank you," he said. "If you recall any other details — anything at all — please, please let me know. And please do fax me the transcript you mentioned." He gave her his fax number.

"I will," she said. "I — I'm sorry; you sound like a nice young man. I hope you can figure out who did it — who's going to do it — and find a way to prevent it."

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At October 10, 2009 11:23 PM , Blogger The Snake said...

A memorable scene.

It did seem kinda silly though that people had access to that information about the crows, even compiled it into neat little dramatic graphs, but no one at the FBI noticed it until the Nazi mentioned it. If I read the graph right, it looked like Thursday's episode took place in December. That's two months for someone else to bring it to their attention. *shrug*

At October 12, 2009 4:03 AM , Blogger Steven Fisher said...

I've loved all your books, Mr. Sawyer. And I have to admit I'm really enjoying the TV series so far. It isn't really the same at all, but why should it be? It's a new story wrapped around the same brilliant "What if?"

(That's not to say they didn't reuse some of your ideas. Nor am I trying to devalue your material. But what's not to love about seeing something different unfold?)

At October 12, 2009 2:02 PM , Blogger John F said...

It did seem kinda silly though that people had access to that information about the crows, even compiled it into neat little dramatic graphs, but no one at the FBI noticed it until the Nazi mentioned it. If I read the graph right, it looked like Thursday's episode took place in December. That's two months for someone else to bring it to their attention. *shrug*

It seemed consistent to me. The characters are essentially investigating a "crime" with almost seven billion witnesses. There were also millions of deaths and material damage on the scale of coordinated terrorist attacks occurring simultaneously in every city in the world.

If I wake up after the flashforward and there are dead crows, who's to say I'll even notice them amidst the thousands of car wrecks and burning buildings? If I do notice them, maybe I'll assume that they fell out of the sky during their own flashforward. If I later find out that animals weren't affected, I'll assume that it was a local effect like the shockwave of an explosion.

In any case, I think it would be some time before I got around to wondering about the crows unless someone pointed it out to me. Say, an elderly Nazi who I think has valuable information.


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