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.