Monday, May 28, 2012

Science fiction or not?: 2030 by Albert Brooks

2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America
by Albert Brooks
St Martin's Press, NY,  May 2011
ISBN 978-0-312-58372-9

It's science fiction, and it deals with the future, but it's not the far future.  For most of us it's our future, and we'll be living through it, and it's a perfect storm of all of our tendencies to put off until tomorrow what we could work on today rising up to bite us.

Albert Brooks (the writer, actor and director) has come up with an all too realistic vision of the America that's sitting out there only 18 years away.  The back cover tells us "its sooner than you isn't what you's already started, but you can't feel it's what happens to America."  And it's chilling.

Medical costs have skyrocketed, even with universal coverage, but there are deductibles and payments that have to be made.  Young people are becoming resentful that they are being asked to shoulder all the burdens, while the "olds," now freed from some of the most deadly diseases, are actively seeking new life prolonging treatments, paid for from the common pool (in most cases by the still-working young).  The tax burden is enormous and the anger is not only becoming organized, but it's growing violent, and the slogan "enough is enough" has started to take on a whole new meaning.

Powerful lobbyists continue to support the interests of the retired, but begin to realize this road is getting more and more unstable all the time.  At a time when things seem not to be able to get any worse, mother nature decides to throw an extremely nasty curve ball that requires funds beyond anything previously seen.  A major US city is in shambles, with no funds to restore it, people with nowhere to live, insurance companies defunct, city budgets gone, murder rates are sky rocketing, and to add insult to injury, China slams the door, finally deciding that no more money will be loaned to the US.  But...they have a proposal.

"people needed money, and those who had any were at risk.  And there was just plain crazy behavior.  Men getting wildly drunk and fighting to the death.  It was as if an entire city had post traumatic stress disorder, and no one was equipped to deal with it."

What now?  The old and the young are on a collision course, and it's really ugly out there.  The streets are not safe. The money is gone and there's no more to be had.  It was pay now or pay later, but later has arrived, and it's hideous.  

But there IS a solution, one that will change everything we believe we know about what it means to be America.  And chances are you won't like it.

Brooks brings a real sense of the way folks interact with one another, making him an excellent storyteller.  The reader really feels things are happening right now.  There are a few places where the future has shifted since the book hit the shelves (always a danger in close-to-current-time science fiction), which are likely to be corrected in the next edition, but by and large, the news seems to flow directly from today into the 2030 scenario seamlessly, and the reader shifts accordingly.  2030 becomes real.

Our near-future choices are going to be real-time examples of "living in interesting times" but most readers aren't going to see this proposed solution coming.  It's bound to make even the most confident futurist do a double-take, and for those who want an America true to its roots, but don't want to change how anything is done now, it's a very alarming wake up call.

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