Monday, December 31, 2007

Reader's Diary #320- Douglas Smith: New Year's Eve

Short Story Monday


I have a confession to make: almost 8 years ago, I was secretly hoping the Y2K Bug was going to throw a major wrench into the system. I've never longed for war or famine or anything of that nature, but a computer-based catastrophe? Yeah, I was all for it. Perhaps I was bored. I really just wanted to see what would happen.

That New Year's Eve is the same one Douglas Smith references in the title to his short story found here.

Early into the story, I was enjoying the over-the-top nerdiness; a chess game at Rick's Cafe Americaine is quickly revealed to be a virtual reality scenario (akin to Star Trek's Holodeck). I appreciated the unapologetic way that many of the computer terms weren't defined for the non-nerds amongst us.

Alas, I made one crucial mistake while reading it: I assumed the stereotypes were tongue-in-cheek. I thought, perhaps, it was all purposeful, to show that beneath the cliched character there was as a more complex being-- a prime opportunity to use a virtual reality program as a metaphor for our personalities.

Instead, John programs a character that resembles his hot ex-girlfriend, and has increasing difficultly distinguishing between reality and fantasy. Is it just me or does this premise seem somehow older than computers themselves?

Also, while I thought adding in aspects of the business side of computer programming was a nice touch, the attempts to balance out the story with artistic merit fell short with tired references to black and white as a measure of truth:

"The important stuff in life is black and white, kid. Good guys, bad guys. Winners, losers. Us, them. Ones and zeroes. Everything else is just shades of grey. You'll be happier when you learn that."

On the positive side, I did enjoy the pacing and lead up the dreaded 2000-- especially with the dates written numerically. It certainly complemented the plot.

But, while the Y2K glitch does affect the outcome of Smith's tale (unlike the real turn of the century) both still turned out to be duds. At least the actual one had an exploding Eiffel tower.

July 14th Eiffel Tower Fireworks by Mqrko_, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Mqrko_ 

4 comments:

Rebecca said...

Hey, just thought I'd let you know that I've posted about my first book in the Canadian Book Challenge!

GeraniumCat said...

Think I'll be passing on this one! My review for Short Story Monday, on Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield, is here

John Mutford said...

Rebecca: Thanks. Looking forward to checking it out.

Geranium Cat: You'll be sold on the short story genre yet, I just know it!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

You hardly hear about Y2K anymore, so it's nice to find a short story about it.

Actually there is a restaurant in town called Saigon Y2K - I've always loved the name.

Happy New Year, John!