The End As I Know It
March 1, 2007
When I first heard that Kevin Shay was working on a novel, it struck me as a little bit unfair. I know Kevin from his work with Movable Type; as we said on the MT blog, he's been one of the most creative plugin developers around for years.
But to be good at hacking and at writing seems a little excessive, like you're just being talent-greedy. This is the cause of my resentment of folks like Paul Ford, who may well be the best writer on the web, or even Ben Trott, who's one of my favorite music writers in addition to being a better coder than you or me. Kevin's The End As I Know It puts him firmly into the "even better writer than hacker" camp; The book is excellent. As someone who never reads fiction and usually only has the attention span to read a single blog post at a time, it had me reading almost the entire novel in a single sitting.
The End is, among many other things, a document of a time that seems so long ago and simple: The end of the twentieth century, when the impending global failure of essential systems due to the Y2K bug seemed both inevitable and overwhelming. The sense of constant, quiet foreboding was a good rehearsal for the War On Terror, even if it turned out the Y2K bug wasn't really the end of the world. It's also a nice reminder that it was less than a decade ago that a lot of people convinced themselves that what was happening in technology was the center of the universe, whether for good or for bad.
And Kevin's protagonist Randall Knight finds a mission in traveling the country to warn his loved ones about the impending Y2K doom. I'm someone who does a lot of traveling to preach to people about technology, so much of the nuance of life on the road while on a mission rings true. But the darkly comic observations of Randall's friends and family as they react to Randall's obsession and offer their own obsessions and addictions in exchange are the heart of the story.
In short, this is the kind of fiction that can catch my eye enough to make me break my no-fiction rule after several years. As a geek, the references to the "we're the most important thing in the world!" triumphalism of both the Y2K and dot-com tech communities at the end of the last century are especially funny in that hits-too-close-to-home way. But don't take my word for it; Check out what Kevin's done in the book, and get a feel for the time with the particularly clever On This Day Pre-Y2K blog, which reminds us of a time and a mindset that, though less than a decade old, already seem to be fading into obscurity.