Sunday, 6 February 2011

[016] Y2K: It's Already Too Late - Jason Kelly

Y2K - It's Already Too Late by Jason Kelly

What the Back of the Book Has to Say:

The world depends on computers. They run power plants, route phone calls, and control banks. Because computers have existed only in the twentieth century, they store years as two digits, not four. The year 1999 is stored as 99. But on January 1, 2000, two-digit dates become 00 and computers shut down.

Los Angeles riots and burns to the ground. Neighbors fight in grocery stores over the last remnants of food. An old man dies from a stopped pacemaker. Digital power brakes lock up at seventy miles per hour. The lights are out. The phones are dead. The U.S. military sits crippled on bases and in ports around the world. Suddenly, from within the confusion, the Chinese navy steams towards Hawaii.

Operating on its own diesel electricity and private satellite network, Solvang Solutions is the only company still operable after New Year's Eve 1999. Mark Solvang frantically directs his Year 2000 repair firm to restore the world. He discovers powerful forces exploiting the meltdown and finds himself in a race to save his life.

The Year 2000 computer problem, known in the industry as Y2K, is real. Jason Kelly's novel is based on evidence from congressional testimony, military documents, and reports from computing experts. It is a chilling look at what lies just around the corner.

It's already too late to escape.

Why I Picked It Up:

See Title and Back Cover

What I Think:

I was 12 years old on New Year's Eve 1999. I remember that my family was at a party at a friend of mine from school's house a few blocks away from ours. It was my very first NYE party and I was really enjoying myself. That's why I was very disappointed to find that my parents wanted to leave around 11:45. I didn't understand why I couldn't just keep playing with Kelly until after midnight, as that was obviously the point of a New Year's Eve party. My parents wouldn't listen to my protests, however, and I welcomed 2000 sitting on the couch between my mother and my father, beloved pet cat in hand, watching the ball drop in New York.

Looking back, I suppose that my parents must have been slightly worried about Y2K, to make sure we were together as a family on that historic moment. Ever since then, they have slept through the countdown while I banged pots in the other room, at least until I was old enough to go to parties on my own. However, despite the nation's worries, the only thing that came out of the moment we hit 2000 for me was a photograph that still sits in my parent's living room of the three of us, me in all my nerdy 12 year old glory, giant green glasses, dorky grin and all, holding my cat by the scruff of the neck so she would look at the camera which unfortunately makes it seem like I'm choking her. No power outages. No riots. No end of civilization.

My family's reaction, though, is pretty suggestive of most people's thoughts at the time. The truth was that everyone had heard stories and theories on the news and no one knew what would happen. Although I have the advantage of reading this book ten years after the event,  what is really sweet about Y2K is that it is obviously written by a man who honestly thought that the end was upon us. There are ads in the book for a company where you could buy a year's supply of freeze dried food or buy extra copies of the novel, with the inference that you will pass them on to family and friends. He wanted people prepared.

Throughout the novel, Kelly presents a vision of a future where the breakdown of modern technology puts us into some chaotic vision of the apocalypse. There is an obvious parallel between the author and our main character, Mark Solvang, the founder of a company that has been trying to convince the public of the Y2K problem for ten years but only gets anyone's attention in 1997, much too late to save anything, their help now limited to damage control. 

The novel is all over the place, jumping from Solvang Solutions trying to fix different civilian centers, to the Department of Defense slowly watching a fleet of ships heading to the US from China, to random civilians and how they deal with the aftermath of Y2K. There are race riots in Los Angeles. People in Portland attack each other after breaking into a grocery store-- not the prettiest picture of my own hometown. 

The China plotline is a little ambitious, thinking that there was a whole conspiracy with China to make sure the US military wasn't ready for Y2K which threads itself through the whole story. However, without some of that intrigue, the novel would be incredibly boring. It lives in its descriptions of a strange rival military team attacking the headquarters of Solvang Solutions and the riots breaking out in areas of California. It gets bogged down in a naval battle towards the end of the novel that I admittedly heavily skimmed but action is definitely the best part of this story.

What I loved the most, however, of my reading was the fact that whoever had read this book before must have been worried themselves about impending disaster and had taken notes throughout the book. All over the place were little marks in red pencil, underlining facts and figures, writing little notes in English and Japanese in the margins. In one instance, they had underlined the phrase "Global Positioning System" and had written down what I can only assume were the coordinates of their home. There's something endearing in watching people prepare for a disaster you know will never hit.

Say what you will about what all of their preparations turned out to-- at the very least, if the something had happened, at least someone would have been prepared and maybe, much like Solvang Solutions, would have helped us get back on track.


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