01-01-00®, R.J. Pineiro

Tor, 1999, 406 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-56871-0

Being a book reviewer is best left to the intrepid. While the best part of the job is being able to rave about an under-appreciated gem, there are other, less pleasant aspects to the profession. Horrors lurk in libraries, unimaginable atrocities waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting readers. It’s my job, as a reviewing-kind-of-guy, to warn you against these… things. Make no mistake, the life of a reviewer is always intense!

So today, I have to warn you against 01-01-00®. To be fair, any sufficiently attentive buyer won’t need the advice of book reviewers to put down the book and run away. The title alone contains two serious danger signals.

The first one is, of course, the reference to Y2K. (Pineiro’s previous book, unimaginatively enough, was also called Y2K.) It’s already hard to recall, but the late nineties were filled with schlocko thrillers built on the semi-mystical century switch, with almost uniformly atrocious results. I suppose we should be grateful for that opportunity to come up with a technological rationalization for the end-of-the-world boogieman, but somehow I can’t bring myself to it. At least we’ve had the opportunity to knock down (with a mallet) every seal-cub-like author who hasn’t resisted the lure of the buzzword. Like Mr. Pineiro. Onward.

The second warning signal contained in the title is the ® so thoughtfully appended to 01-01-00®. Call me old-fashioned, but I think that artistic endeavors should be as far apart from marketing as possible. By the time a title is registered, it’s time to pack it up and go home. (Are you listening, Clive “Dirk Pitt®” Cussler?) Digging deeper in the novel’s foreword, it turns out that 01-01-00® is a registered trademark to another guy, who ended up licensing it to Pineiro. Or the reverse. Or the inverse. Whatever. If you think that ®egiste®ing an a®®angement of bina®y symbols and dashes is a good idea, then 01-01-00® and you dese®ve each othe®.

It gets worse as the novel opens. A hacker brings down Washington’s traffic system, causing (very indirectly) a speeding mother to have an car accident, fall down a cliff and kill the rest of her family. Bad driving? Yep. Bad luck? Sure, but when said mother becomes a super-computer-cop for the express single purpose to catch the hacker who did that to her, well, that’s got to rank fairly high in the top-ten misguided character motivation list.

Such psychological howlers are common throughout the book, with perhaps the best one left for the end: The protagonist gets a moment of “total empathy” with the world, and sees “how a vagrant killed himself following [her] stoplight speech about getting a job and not being a bum.” [P.397] Obviously, Pineiro doesn’t have much of a clue about the psychology of the homeless, or vastly overestimates the persuasive powers of his heroine.

I’ll leave out the technological funnies inserted here and there; that’s too much of an easy target. I’ll just point out that in 01-01-00® Pineiro mixes aliens, Y2K bug, emasculated terrorists, new-age feel-good philosophy, all-powerful computer viruses, perfunctory romance and the Mayan calendar with barely an self-critical eye toward all of it, or even a cursory nod toward Pope Gregor’s calendar reforms.

Bad doesn’t begin to cover it, but “boring when not funny” will do the job. As a book critic, I have to slog through all of this crap so that you don’t have to, so if ever I am to do a single good action with these reviews, please don’t read 01-01-00®. Ever. Trash it if it’s in your to-read pile and don’t ever buy it if it’s not.

Chances are that most copies have been pulped anyway. Who the hell wants to read a Y2K book now?

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