SFWRITER.COM > Novels > FlashForward > Typical Passage
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1999 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.
When giving readings at bookstores, I often don't read the opening of a novel;
rather, I look for a typical passage that embodies the flavor and
theme of the book. I find that in a book superstore, where the acoustics
are usually quite lousy, a six- or seven-minute reading is ideal. This is
the passage I often read from FlashForward, my
novel that is the basis for the hit ABC TV series of the same name.
Theo's younger brother, Dimitrios, lived with three other
young men in suburban Athens, but when Theo came calling, late in
the evening, Dimitrios was home alone.
Dim was studying European literature at the National
Capodistrian University of Athens; ever since childhood, Dim had
wanted to be a writer. He'd mastered his alpha-beta-gammas
before he'd entered school, and was constantly typing up stories
on the family computer. Theo had promised years ago to transfer
all of Dim's stories from three-and-a-half-inch diskettes onto
optical wafers; no home computers came with diskette readers
anymore, but CERN's computing facility had some legacy systems
that still used them. He thought about making the offer again,
but didn't know whether it was better that Dim think he'd simply
forgotten, or that he realize that years years! had gone by
without his big brother having managed three minutes to request
that simple favor from someone in the computing department.
Dim had answered the door wearing blue jeans how retro!
and a yellow T-shirt imprinted with the logo of Anaheim, a
popular American TV series; even a European Literature major
apparently couldn't help falling under the thrall of American pop
"Hello, Dim," said Theo. He had never hugged his younger
brother before, but had an urge to do so now; facing the fact of
one's own mortality fostered such feelings. But Dim would
doubtless not know what to make of such an embrace; their father,
Constantin, was not an affectionate man. Even when the ouzo was
flowing more than it should have, he might pinch a waitress's
behind but he'd never even tousled the hair of his boys.
"Hey, Theo," said Dimitrios, as if he had seen him just
yesterday. He stepped aside to let his brother enter.
The house looked like you'd expect the home of four guys in
their early twenties to look a pig sty, with items of clothing
draped over furniture, take-out food boxes piled on the
dining-room table, and all sorts of gadgets, including high-end
stereo and virtual-reality decks.
It felt good to be speaking Greek again; he'd gotten sick of
French and English, the former with its excess verbiage and the
latter with its harsh, unpleasant sounds. "How are you doing?"
Theo asked. "How's school?"
"How's university, you mean," said Dim.
Theo nodded. He'd always referred to his own post-secondary
studies as university, but his brother, pursuing the arts, was
just in school. Perhaps the slight had been intended; there were
eight years between them, a long time, but still not enough of a
buffer to insure the absence of sibling rivalry. "Sorry. How's
"It's okay." He met Theo's eyes. "One of my professors
died during the FlashForward, and one of my best friends had to
leave to look after his family after his parents were injured."
There was nothing to say. "Sorry," said Theo. "It was
Dim nodded and looked away. "Have you seen Mama and Poppa
"Not yet. Later."
"It's been hard on them, you know. All their neighbors know
you work at CERN `my son the scientist,' Poppa used to say.
`My boy, the new Einstein.'" Dimitrios paused. "He doesn't say
that anymore. They've had to take a lot of heat from those who
"Sorry," said Theo again. He looked around the messy room,
trying to find anything on to which he could shift the
"You want a drink?" asked Dimitrios. "Beer? Mineral
Dimitrios was quiet for a few moments. He walked into the
living room; Theo followed. Dim sat on the couch, pushing some
papers and clothes onto the floor to make room. Theo found a
chair that was reasonably free of clutter and sat on it.
"You've ruined my life," said Dimitrios, his eyes meeting
then avoiding his brother's. "I want you to know that."
Theo felt his heart jump. "How?"
"These these visions. Dammit, Theo, don't you know how
hard it is to face the keyboard each day? Don't you know how
easy it is to become discouraged?"
"But you're a terrific writer, Dim. I've read your work.
The way you handle the language is beautiful. That piece you did
about the summer you spent on Crete you captured Knossos
"It doesn't matter; none of that matters. Don't you see?
Twenty-one years hence, I won't be famous. I won't have made it.
Twenty-one years hence, I'll be working in a restaurant, serving
souvlaki and tzatziki to tourists."
"Maybe it was a dream maybe you're dreaming in the year
Dim shook his head. "I found the restaurant; it's over by
the Tower of the Winds. I met the manager; he's the same guy
who'll be running it twenty-one years from now. He recognized me
from his vision and I recognized him from mine."
Theo tried to be gentle. "Many writers don't make their
living writing. You know that."
"But how many would go on, year after year, if they didn't
think that someday maybe not today, maybe not next year, but
eventually that they would break out? That they'd make it?"
"I don't know. I've never thought about it."
"It's the dream that makes artists go on. How many
struggling actors are giving up today right now because
their visions proved to them that they'll never make it? How
many painters on the streets of Paris threw away their palettes
this past week because they know that even decades hence they'll
never be recognized? How many rock bands, practicing in their
parents' garages, have broken up? You've taken away the dream
from millions of us. Some people were lucky they were
sleeping in the future. Because they were dreaming then, their
real dreams haven't been shattered."
"I I hadn't thought about it that way."
"Of course you hadn't. You're so obsessed with finding out
who killed you that you can't see straight. But I've got news
for you, Theo. You're not the only one who's dead in the year
2030. I'm dead, too a waiter in an overpriced tourist joint!
I'm dead, and so, I'm sure, are millions of others. And you
killed them: you killed their hopes, their dreams, their
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