Deep Outside SFFH - Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror

back to main contents page of A. L. Sirois Outside in: Reviews at Deep Outside SFFH


A supplement to The Utne Reader
Edited by Eric Utne
Utne Reader Books
120 pages
First printing, November 1998

Buy the book.

"Confusion will be my epitaph
As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying."
Epitaph by King Crimson

"The average American is in contact with seventy microprocessors before noon each day."

That statement is scarier to me than any of the fear-based Y2K warnings we're hearing. Looking ahead, I imagine that the emerging science of nanotechnology will creep up on us in the same way computers have. It's certain that genetic engineering has already done so.

Our civilization is set up in such a way that "scientific advancements" often catch us unawares. Sometimes that's good, sometimes not. That's probably the basis for much of the anxiety surrounding the Y2K issue.

Which is, in my opinion, a non-issue. I'm one of those stalwarts who believe that the change-over from 1999 to 2000 won't have cars crashing in the streets, ATMs malfunctioning or food shipments going astray while the police struggle with rioting bands of freezing inner-city dwellers. This particular vision of the Apocalypse ought to be relegated to the comic books.

I've spoken to engineers and to computer scientists, technicians and contractors. I haven't talked to anyone who seriously thinks there will be major disruptions.

That said, we can agree that there may well be minor screwups here and there. It wouldn't surprise me if portions of the Internet went down for a while, but it wouldn't surprise me if it didn't, either. I don't believe that there are going to be any core meltdowns in nuclear plants or that any jet airliners are going to fall from the sky. (Especially not in China, where the government has mandated that all airline company executives are to be in the air aboard one of their jets at midnight. Talk about incentive!) Wall Street will continue to function, preproduction for the second STAR WARS "prequel" film will not be interrupted, and your favorite Internet porn site won't crash.

This talk about a computer Armageddon is all fear-based, no matter how well cloaked in logic it may be. After all, we are rational animals, and it's been my experience that we can rationalize anything.

The Y2K Citizen's Action Guide is full of sensible procedures and level-headed information. If we really did face a "computer winter," then I'd say that this booklet ought to be available in our schools, public libraries, supermarkets, hospitals, gas stations and pizza parlors. It's a well-written and dispassionate how-to for people concerned that we might, because of massive failures in our electronic infrastructure, have to go without basic amenities (is that redundant?) for up to a month in the middle of winter.

I admire and respect Eric Utne and The Utne Reader. This "action guide" is an outstanding attempt at educating people to take charge of their lives in the face of coming disaster. As such, it's something everyone, especially science fiction writers, ought to read anyway. It fosters a sense of community and self-reliance, which is certainly far healthier than the way most of society operates most of the time. There are dozens of resources listed in terms of books, articles, web sites and so forth. It tells how to organize your neighborhood, your community and even your own home, how to prepare for being without food, electricity and heat for an extended period of time. It reminds me of similar booklets and pamphlets I have read concerning the possibility of nuclear attack. Those were fear-based, worst-case-scenario things.

I don't want to give the impression that the Y2K Citizen's Action Guide is shrill or hysterical. Far from it. The tone is measured and calm throughout. It even pays a little - a very little -- lip service to the transformative aspects of the situation - the idea that Y2K (lordy, I do hate that euphemism!) represents a spiritual benchmark, or something like a bar mitzvah for the race. In my view this is a far healthier way to look at it, but such thinking doesn't have a lot of adherents among the more "level-headed" citizenry - at least, in public. Privately, I suspect there is rather more Tarot reading going on than people will cop to. If this is the case, then I have to believe that some reassurance is being given from higher realms.

But this won't play in Peoria, as they say. So, while there's nothing wrong with being prepared for the worst, I believe such preparation is appropriate only when there is a realistic expectation that the worst is going to occur. On the Y2K problem there is no such consensus. I do not believe there will be. That's because it is so damn unlikely!

As far as my own immediate surroundings are concerned, my VCR is Y2K compliant - a simple test proved that. So's my computer, as another simple test proved. Aside from that, there's nothing else in my house that I need to worry about. My car doesn't care what day it is, so I'm confident that it won't suddenly stop working at 12:01, January 1, 2000.

The nation's infrastructure is not going to come crashing down when the millennium arrives -- which will be on January 1st, 2001, by the way, not January 1, 2000. But I'll be at the biggest party I can find come this coming December 31, because, hey, who wants to miss a good party?

Buy the book.


click for top of page

Content Copyright © A. L. Sirois 1998-2007 All Rights Reserved.

Website Copyright John T. Cullen as indicated on this label. Review content copyright A. L. Sirois as indicated above