FlashForward Author Robert J. Sawyer on How George Lucas Pre-Empted His SciFi Series” width=”560″/>
The novelist discusses the ABC adaptation of his 1999 book — about a worldwide event that allows everyone a glimpse into their future — and explains the network’s reluctance to compare it with Lost.
Q: FlashForward was originally optioned as a movie. Now it’s a television series. Do you have a preference either way?
A: To be perfectly blunt, if we last longer than one season I’ll make more money off of a TV series than I would off of a film. So I think a TV series is a marvelous idea. Also, the comparison is often made to Lost. Well, here’s the difference: Lost has 40 people on one island affected by the event. We’ve got 7 billion people on five continents. So of course we’ve got a bigger canvas and more stories to tell.
Q: Why was only one of your characters, Lloyd Simcoe, incorporated into the series?
A: The only character by name that makes it over is Simcoe. The central conflict in the marriage between Sonya Walger and Joseph Fiennes’s characters in the TV series is directly the same conflict of Lloyd and Michiko in my novel. The central story of John Cho’s character — the guy who has no vision of the future — is directly the central story of Theo, one of the characters from my novel. Do I care about search and replace on names? Not in the least. Do I care about the thematic integrity of the material, that it actually explores in depth the kinds of issues I raise in the book? Yes, and it does.
Q: Executive producer David S. Goyer has repeatedly stated that FlashForward is not science fiction. Do you think that’s an important distinction to make?
A: We’ve learned that people will happily put their rear end in a seat for two hours to watch a science fiction movie, but they won’t watch again week after week. Thanks to George Lucas, science fiction in the visual media has been indelibly identified as escapism for adolescent boys. You look at Battlestar Galactica: Wonderful series, on a really good week it had 875,000 viewers out of 315 million people. We will die as a primetime network broadcast series if the same percentage of people decide they want to watch FlashForward. So what had to be done was make sure people don’t see science fictional tropes — they don’t see robots, aliens, flying cars, what have you; and instead see the compelling character drama.
Q: One of the big series mysteries is what actually causes the event, which in your novel is explained right away. How do you resolve that?
A: In my book it’s on Page 1! The reality is that it may or may not follow the book. You know the phrase in computer science, “RTFM,” read the eff-ing manual? We’ve gone to pains to make clear that my novel FlashForward is not necessarily the eff-ing manual for the reveals that are going to happen in the series.
Q: You compared FlashForward to Lost right away — something the producers seem more reluctant to do. Why is that?
A: There’s a double-perception of Lost amongst the general public: Those who have stuck with it from the beginning absolutely adore it. Those who rightly or wrongly lost faith that the creators did have a coherent conclusion in mind are afraid of being burned again. I don’t think they are going to be burned by Lost. But the producers have given an enormous amount of thought to how this season and subsequent seasons will play out. I stand here to tell you that the mythology is worked out in detail, that there will be a payoff not only in each episode and each season but also at the end of the series, and that nobody will walk away from this shaking their heads.
Q: FlashForward correctly predicted the Large Hadron Collider would be turned on in 2009. Your new novel, Wake, is about the Internet becoming sentient. Is this a cautionary tale?
A: No it’s exactly the opposite. Everywhere you look, the foregone conclusion is we’re hosed. Computers are going to take over, and there’s nothing we can do about it. And I freely admit some of my previous novels have taken that position. But I came to realize that almost nobody was writing about a possible road map to a future in which humanity might survive with its essential dignity, individuality and humanity in tact, despite the advent of superior intelligence. So the WWW trilogy — Wake, Watch and Wonder — are designed not to be cautionary tales, but possible road maps for an uplifting future in which we survive the coming advent of intelligences greater than us.