Flashback – Ian Hocking (2011)
*** Spoiler alert ***
Hocking’s sequel to ‘Déjà vu’ finds Saskia Brandt in Germany in 2003, embarking on a relationship with a blue-haired girl called Jem. Like Saskia, Jem is not all she appears to be.
The novel begins with a disorienting series of jumps in time. A plane crashes on the side of a mountain and an old German soldier, living alone in the wilderness, hears a voice from his mirror, asking for help.
We jump back in time a few weeks, and back again, discovering more of Saskia and her fledgling relationship.
Things get interesting when we jump ahead in time to an Airport Press Conference where an elderly man with a cane has enough technology to steal data from the plane company spokesman’s laptop. The old man is known as ‘The Ghost’ and has discovered that not only was Saskia on board but the codeword ‘STENDEC’ was transmitted before the plane crashed; the same sequence of letters that was transmitted by a chartered plane in 1947 before it crashed into the Andes.
The Ghost, like Saskia, is a time-traveller but a very dangerous one. He is on a mission to retrieve information that Saskia may have, and if she is dead then he may need to try and retrieve it from those closest to her.
A little like Charles Stross’ ‘Laundry’ novels, this is a heady mix of science fiction and espionage thriller, featuring time-travel, cyborgs, technological maguffins, credit card sized artificial intelligences and a complex plot that jumps between 1947 and 2003.
It’s much tighter, darker and complex than ‘Déjà vu’ and at its heart has the central question of how we define identity and whether a human personality is more than the sum of its memories.
Saskia, as we know from ‘Déjà vu’, is an artificial personality grafted on to the subdued consciousness of a serial killer. Saskia’s memories of life before the grafting are artificial. The Ghost, it seems, may have similar issues and Jem, for different reasons, has problems of her own with memory and how it relates to her everyday life.
All in all, it’s a proficient thriller and an excellent sequel to ‘Déjà vu’. taking Saskia and Jennifer Proctor onto a completely different character level.