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When the President of the United States, Seth Jerrison, is shot and almost killed during a speech at Washington DC’s Lincoln Memorial, he is rushed to the local hospital where Professor Ranjip Singh is conducting experiments to eradicate traumatic memories, focusing on war veteran Kadeem Adams. Jerrison is on the operating table when terrorists blow up the White House with a new type of bomb, one that generates an electromagnetic pulse. When this pulse hits the hospital and Singh’s experimental technology, 21 people are contaminated. The result is that each of these people can now remember the memories of one of the others in that group of 21, meaning that their own memories can also be read by someone else. What makes this more complicated is that the person who can remember your memories is not the same person whose memories you can remember. The task of Singh and Secret Service agent Susan Dawson, themselves affected, is to work out exactly who is linked to whom. Because someone among the 21 has access to the memories of the President of the United States, including details of an imminent and deadly top secret military mission.
Triggers operates on several levels, each of which is extremely intriguing: there is the mystery surrounding the shooting of the President – Jerrison knows it was organised by someone close to him; there is the shock of the devastating attack on the White House; there are then all the individual stories, revealed by memories, of these people who have been linked together by accident, some of whom are hiding dark, painful or even dangerous and suppressed secrets, passions and prejudices. Everything is certainly personal but each must suffer the indignity of having a previous stranger know their most intimate memories while being subjected to visions they can’t turn off from a past that isn’t their own. Each person deals with this affront in a different way and that is a big key to the success of this novel. Each of these people is as important as the next, even if that next is the President of the United States.
This does, however, make for a complicated story, at least for me who has difficulty remembering names in a novel at the best of times. But here we have more than twenty, each of whom is linked to two others. But all credit to author Robert J Sawyer because I made it through the book being able to recall all these relationships. There are non-intrusive reminders throughout so the reader does keep on top of this mountain of potential confusion. It does, though, give a real impression of what this bedlam and intrusion would be like to endure.
On the surface, Triggers may be classified as a science fiction novel but there is little science here. The thriller element is exciting but that also doesn’t dominate. Triggers is mostly a novel about human awareness, identity, prejudice and consciousness and, as it goes on, the philosophical element increases, focusing on individualism and the ties that bind humanity together and the forces that rip it apart.
Suspense, though, we have by the bucketload as Sawyer cleverly winds our way through a twisty, complicated path, walked upon by one after another of interesting and perplexing characters, some good, some bad. The pace doesn’t let up for a moment and I admire the way in which Sawyer held it all together, constantly moving from one person to another, still giving each of the characters a unique voice. While I felt that the ending may have been a little rushed, especially compared to the events leading up to it, it succeeded in making me think and made me want to know much, much more about this just-in-the-future world. It also made me want to read other books by Robert J Sawyer as soon as possible.