Nineteen Eighty-Four may have come and gone, but Orwell's chilling vision of the future made a lasting impact for decades. And the argument could be made that many of Orwell's visions came true: we have virtually no privacy these days, we are all slaves to our TVs, and Big Brother is most definitely watching.
In the same vein, Albert Brooks takes a look into the future of America, and produces a somber, yet highly plausible, outlook. The year is 2030, the first Jew has been elected to the U.S. presidency, the national debt has spiraled to insurmountable depths, and because cancer has been cured, the elderly are living longer, draining tax dollars and straining the health care system, which has created a civil war, of sorts, between the young and the "olds." And just when things could not possibly look more grim, a devastating earthquake rocks Los Angeles, reducing the city of angels to mere ash and dust. Oh, crap.
Not knowing which fire to put out first, Matthew Bernstein's presidency begins in the face of crisis -- a position in which no president wants to find themselves. Kathy Bernard, a young 20-something, and her father, Stewart, are faced with financial hardships, as Stewart has been forced to take low-paying jobs, after losing his job with GM. Dr. Sam Mueller is world famous for having cured cancer, but faces growing enemies in the younger generation, being vilified for extending life, the repercussions of which has caused the youth to shoulder the growing financial burden of the elderly. Brad Miller's condo is destroyed in the quake of Los Angeles, forcing him to live in a make-shift triage tent, not knowing if he'll be able to recoup the insurance money owed to him on the condo. And the Chinese, the only government with the resources to bail out the United States and help rebuild L.A., seem unwilling to loan even another dime to the U.S., as the U.S. is already indebted to the Chinese for trillions of dollars.
2030 starts off a little slow, as Brooks establishes the central characters, each of whom comprise a separate storyline. At first I thought, oh no, Brooks is pandering to a more base reading audience, writing in the Dan Brown "short chapter, multiple-narrative thriller" style. But it soon becomes evident Brooks knows how to tell a story -- and to great effect. The multiple story lines were each well-defined and engrossing, with just enough character development to make me care about what was going to happen to each.
Brooks' decades of experience in film and television are notably present in his use of dialog, which is smooth and natural. The dialog, in fact, is really what moves the story, rather than the story being driven by narrative exposition. Brooks also peppers in some of his trademark humor, to help offset the overtly tragic overtones of the story. This was a breath of fresh air.
In the end, the panache with which the story moved, wanes a little, not finishing quite as energetically as it could have, but the story does resolve naturally, without feeling forced.
2030 is a grand freshman effort by Albert Brooks, and should be read with careful consideration, as the picture Brooks paints is not so farfetched. I found myself engrossed in the vivid details of the chaos, not wanting the book to end. Sadly, if politicians do not take heed of Mr. Brooks' warnings, the events portrayed in the story may be realized, making 2030 this generation's 1984.
Wow! I was intrigued by the description of the book, "2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America" by Albert Brooks, but it was even better than I imagined it was going to be. This was one of those books that I stayed up reading til the early morning hours and then got up a few hours later to continue. It was engaging from the first pages right through to the end. It's a book that's described as science fiction but it's not one of those "woo-woo" types of stories with a flying saucer in every garage, but rather a world that is easy to imagine 19 years from now, based on the way things are today.
I'm not going to include any spoilers beyond the description by the publisher because it's just too good of a book and you have to let it unfold page by page. A big part of it is about today's baby boomers which are now a major part of the population and growing rapidly after the cure for cancer and many other life enhancing discoveries. That leaves the younger generation responsible for a country deeply in debt and seemingly no way of having the quality of life that previous generations had. A huge 9.1 earthquake in L.A. threatens to destroy the economy. A little over a month ago, an earthquake that large might have seemed like way-out-there fiction but it's certainly believable now.
The characters which include the president and other politicians, young adults, people in their eighties and nineties who are still leading productive lives and millionaires and billionaires, are all colorful characters. Brooks tells the story from all of their points of view, switching from one to the other throughout the book. It's about a lot more than just the aging population and will undoubtedly get you thinking. There are a lot of pages, but there is so much going on, the pages just fly by. I was sad to see this story end. I hope Albert Brooks intends to write a sequel, maybe "2035" because I'm so intrigued by these characters now and would love to know where they and the country are a few years later. Two thumbs up for this mind-blowing book!
I chose 2030 because I have a certain fondness for dystopian tales, and at first blush, this one seemed to fit squarely in that genre. It didn't take long before I realized that the author was after something more with this book. Noted actor Albert Brooks spins a tale unlike any I've read in quite a while. There are no alien invaders, no massive planet shattering diasters, and no hideously corrupt government officials. The interesting thing is, it's the absence of these things that makes this novel more compelling. Sure, he takes some really huge leaps, but they're not really out of this world leaps. It's how the author skirts on the edge of believability that makes this such a compelling read.
I don't think I'm giving too much away when I say that while there aren't any planet busting disasters,there is a major earthquake involved. It serves as a catalyst to get some things moving and the author does a great job of moving the story along at a brisk pace. The actor's trademark humor is all over this book. I could often hear his voice telling me this story. Even the darkest moments were infused with humor and sardonic wit. He envelops the story with a level of cynicism that is sometimes at odds with events, but is always entertaining.
There are quite a few characters here, and some were more successful than others. They are a varied assortment, and the author does just enough character development to keep the reader invested in what's happening. He does a great job of juggling all their stories and bringing them all together to a resolution that while it doesn't tie everything up, did manage to leave me feeling pretty good about where things were going.
To those who would complain about the author's political agenda, I would just say that this is entertainment. It's a fanciful look at what might happen in the future given the current state of the world and it's economy. Sure, what happens here would probably be Rush's worst nightmare, but no matter what side of the fence your leaning on, you will likely find a few things to think about. For me, the action did not drive this tale. What kept me reading were the characters and the ideas.
Intelligent writing, intriguing ideas, memorable characters, and it's surprising dark humor all combine to make this an enthusiastic recommend.
on April 5, 2011
With only rare whiffs of the neurotic whimsy that laces his movies, Albert Brooks' new novel is far more tragic than comic. But it's also an astonishment. Fans of the Brooks canon may be wholly unprepared: this is a full-on, mordant, fatalistic portrait of our near future, bursting with ideas and heavy with pessimism, touching and wholly plausible. And it's no vanity project from a Hollywood wannabe. It's a dead serious contribution to modern dystopian literature, up there with Brave New World and A Canticle for Leibowitz.
Brooks' 2030 America is bristling with gadgetry and gee-whiz conveniences, but dispirited, frightening, and crippled by debt. The main ongoing conflict is between the final baby boomers, who thanks to medical miracles live ever longer on the public dime, and the resentful younger generation whose labors subsidize the "olds." The government, unable then as now to control its spending or curb public benefits, is now anemic and powerless. The story kicks into gear when a 9.1-level earthquake flattens Los Angeles -- Brooks' description is eerily close to the recent real-life calamity in Japan -- and the United States cannot muster the resources to care for L.A.'s refugees, let alone rebuild. The scenes amid the wreckage in which privileged Angelenos slowly realize no help is coming, ever, are chilling. (A Kevorkian-esque euthanasia advocate is beseiged by pragmatists who prefer death to whatever lies ahead for America.)
In its hour of need the U.S. turns to China to borrow additional trillions; China finally puts its foot down and shuts off the money tap; and the nation is forced down a path that some will call collapse, others rebirth. It's surprising how conservative a vision Brooks serves up. His America is an empire in its death throes, palsied by self-indulgence -- the natural result of a citizenry absolutely demanding a level of benefits it absolutely refuses to pay for, with no adult leadership to force reason.
Brooks' patented tone of voice, his mournful, hangdog peevishness with a wry edge, comes through so clearly here, you'd swear big swaths of 2030 were dictated out loud. But he's never applied it to such dark material. There is some pro forma soap opera plot involving the President and his marriage that falls curiously flat -- though it's fresh evidence of Brooks' long preoccupation with mother issues -- but on the whole the result is compulsively readable and fully intriguing. I predict that 2030, like 1984, will be read and remarked upon long after the year in the title has passed.
on May 28, 2011
First off, I am a great fan of the films of Albert Brooks, and his "Defending Your Life" ranks among my all-time favorites. His movie dialogue is snappy and realistic; his characters are believable, flesh-and-blood people; and his screenplays show not only tremendous wit, but also insight and revelation. I eagerly awaited publication of "2030," and now find it hard to express just how tremendously disappointed I am. Clearly, a great screenwriter does not necessarily make a great novelist.
The book is sloppily written (and edited), with such sentences as "The first thing the Chinese needed to do was supply housing for its citizens" ("its" should be "their," the subject being "the Chinese" and not "China"). Brooks makes painfully repetitive and distracting overuse of the "but" sentence structure (as in, "This could have been a good book, but it was terribly written"): flip to any page and you'll see several sentences of this sort, with an occasional "however" thrown in for good measure. (When I'm reading something by Albert Brooks and I'm going to my Kindle search function to count the number of "buts" in the book, that's a bad sign.) The characters are utterly cardboard and one-dimensional, the dialogue flat and uninspired (the characters all speak with the same voice and say precisely what the plot requires them to say, no more, no less), and the exposition heavy-handed and amateurish. Worst of all for a Brooks fan, the book is simply not funny. Not at all. Ever.
I stayed with this till the end because I refused to let myself believe that Brooks wouldn't give me some kind of payoff, but there was none: it just ended. Truly, the book reads like a first attempt at a novel by a not-particularly-creative high-school student. I have no doubt that there are far more worthy efforts being rejected daily by publishers and that this one would have ended up quickly tossed in the "Reject" pile had it not had Albert Brooks' name attached. Now you'll have to excuse me, I'm going to put on my DVD of "Modern Romance" or "Lost in America" to remind myself why I ever liked this guy in the first place - and just how brilliant he can be.
on June 15, 2013
This review is going to be short and sweet - Brooks has no sense of plot, no sense of setting, and he makes Ayn Rand look like a master of subtle characterization. The issue is less that of willing suspension of disbelief than "why bother?" If you want a GOOD dystopian look at the future, ignore this and try P. D. James' "The Children of Men."
If you love near future dystopia, or just a darkly humorous tale of a country gone awry, buy this book now. Simply could not put it down, and read it in an afternoon. Both entertaining and thought provoking.
Books has managed to taken every trend shaping America today to its logical conclusion, and the results are great. This includes: massive government debt, absurd security protocol, the San Andreas faultline, race relations, age relations, America's dependence on China, and even has a bit of White House intrigue. (I would have loved it if he had included hydrocarbon and financial markets too.)
Sure, there's some cartoonish elements (in the romance and revolutionary stuff), but you don't really care as you consider the ideas presented (would a network of robot wielding remote doctors and nurse practitioners really work?) and laugh at Brooks' running commentary.
on May 15, 2011
I love Albert Brooks' thinking on current events and the future. His movies "Lost In America," "The Muse," and "Defending Your Life" provide ample proof that he's been on the ball for many years, and that he's a funny man. The pain and absurdity of contemporary life -- the petty vanities and competition for looks, sex, money, health, and status -- combined with his imaginings of a sweet (or not so sweet) future make for great reading in this novel. As often in Brooks' world, people love to eat, they love to fall in love, they worry about getting old, going broke, their relationships and their cars -- and things are rarely easy for our protagonist.
This is a compactly written political novel with much serious commentary on what's wrong with 2011 and what the future might hold. There's some really bad news, too. Brooks is an expert at writing a scene that can ring true and yet have a sly joke in it. He is never tedious or preachy and you have plenty to think about once it's over. Brooks is a smart comic, too, and he doesn't let up in this novel. Remember the restaurant (all you can eat!) scene in "Defending Your Life"? That's been normalized in "2030" : a pill's on the market that makes weight gain impossible. Of course it's the most lucrative drug ever for its manufacturer. There are scores of such improvements upholstering and, in some cases, ravaging, the lives of the denizens of Brooks' future world. His tale is probably prescient and definitely clever, but not too much, and some of it is downright brilliant. No spoilers here.
The plot is straightforward with just enough twisting to keep you guessing. Chapters are brief, satisfying bites. There is a Meryl Streep character and very funny moments. Brooks has an eye and an ear for his readers so, for example, I was never bored and often delighted by his refreshing, get-to-the-point methods.
I read this in two sittings and found it to be wonderfully intelligent and fun. Highly recommended.
on June 8, 2011
I wanted to like this book -- I really enjoy the Armageddon/doom and gloom type novels. I have no idea who Albert Brooks is and just wanted a good novel to read. But this was sooooooo excruciatingly slow. There was too much background info and not enough action. And I'm a female who typically doesn't mind the "non-action" stuff. The storyline had so much potential, and I kept waiting for the scenes that would keep me turning the page or wanting to know what would happen next or keep me on the edge of my seat. They just never came. I forced myself to get through it, but in the end it all was a bit boring and predictable. Not to mention it didn't really evoke much emotion out of me. The earthquake descriptions were kinda blah (not to mention it took to chapter 10 to even get there). And the characters didn't feel very developed. The only really interesting parts about this book were some of the futuristic ideas that the author came up with. Although some things were just silly. They have hologram TV that you can project onto your ceiling in the year 2030, but yet people still wrote checks? I hate to be so harsh, because I don't like giving bad reviews. But this novel just did not do it for me. If I were to use one word to describe it, that word would be "flat." Sorry.
on May 11, 2011
The most trenchant dystopian prophecies arise in the hearts of the disillusioned. Erstwhile socialist George Orwell witnessed the horrors of both the 20th Century's forms of totalitarianism - fascist and communist - and then applied his journalist's skills to his perennially relevant novel of foreboding. But while "1984" was groundbreaking in its day, today such visions of the future abound to the point where cautionary scenarios drown each other out.
Which is where Albert Brooks comes in. Because where the lectures of scientists and political activists - complete with statistics and graphs - often bore rather than motivate, Brooks' applies the dry, satiric sensibility that has been in his wheelhouse since he first cracked up Johnny Carson on "Tonight".
In his version of the future, the human spirit has been trampled by forces less dictatorial than they are simply banal. The social contract has been breached, Brooks tells us, not by fiat, but by over-extension, and people struggle to survive, not against nature or an all-powerful state, but against each other.
The United States has been reduced to the equivalent of a third-world nation, the difference being that instead of foreign debt and ownership being the hobbling burdens, it is the promises made and bills come due of previous generations. Scary but realistic enough to leave one with a sense that perhaps it won't take as many as nineteen years for many of Brooks' fears to come true. Some passages may even evoke a sense of having actually happened to someone - a friend's cousin or a cousin's friend.
The story Brooks' tells in "2030" entertains as it warns and, with each day's headlines as reinforcements, will occupy readers' imaginations long after they've finished it.