(Reviewed by Judi Clark SEP 20, 1999)
Something has gone very wrong. In Arizona, a nuclear power plant has a complete core melt down. In no time 15,000 people are dead, many are exposed and thirty-square miles are sealed off by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And no one can explain why three water pumps were shut down at exactly 1:37 am
.Except maybe Dr. Eugene LaBlanche and his associate Pamela Sasser. While working on an improved nuclear power plant algorithm, they stumble upon a discovery that the Perseus SC-200 chip has an anomaly. After verifying the results, Dr. Eugene LaBlanche contacts Microtel, the SC-200 manufacturer. He's assured by the CEO of the company, Preston Sinclair, that Microtel will look into this and put out a press release by the end of the week. However, Preston Sinclair is making a run for the U.S. Presidency and he's looking perfect for the job. This kind of information won't bode well for his presidency, though. Never mind his company, for the sheer number of lawsuits coming out of Arizona alone would bring down Microtel. Coincidentally, Dr. LaBlanche dies of a heart attack during lunch, on the day the press release should have gone out. Over the weekend, his office is robbed. Pamela Sasser is beginning to understand that all is not right with the world.
I've been collecting used books preparing to sell them on-line. This is one that I picked up last spring. I didn't really have intentions of reading it, but I hadn't read any thrillers in awhile, so I decided to give it a few pages. Very quickly I was caught up in this story. In fact, I had to get up and out of bed last night to finish it. The book jacket describes it as "The Pelican Brief meets The Net." This is a good description. There is no mystery to solve in this book. It's quite obvious that the Perseus SC-200 chip is at fault and Preston Sinclair will do anything to prevent this news reaching the press, namely recovering the sole backup disk and terminating Pamela Sasser. The nonstop action kept me turning the pages. Call me cynical, but the extent of political corruption made me believe in the story. Americans would love a Presidential candidate like Preston Sinclair with his strong mix of military and corporate success. Let's hope we never get this candidate.
The political intrigue presented here is a nightmare, but nothing compared to the real horror. When Intel had a bug with their Floating Point algorithm a few years ago, I'll admit I had no imagination of its consequences. But Pineiro seeds this techno-thriller with intervals of realistic disasters that could occur from this seemingly innocuous error. It makes the old saying that 'computers don't make mistakes, only the programmers that code them do', have a whole new meaning. And not one that will help you sleep at night. Let's just hope this stays fiction..
Overall, I was very surprised by this book. I mean, who would have thought that something so mundane as a programming bug could turn into such a page turner? Well he got my attention and you can bet I'll read more of his books.
- Amazon reader rating: from 7 reviews
(Reviewed by Judi Clark NOV 14, 1999)
Kate Donaldson has been a CIA intelligence operative for the past 19 years and considered one of the most successful in the field of industrial espionage. On the day of her 40th birthday, she ends up flying to London to oversee the security aspects of a Y2K convention, putting her personal plans on hold yet again. For political reasons, many of the tasks that went into planning the surveillance had been left up to a younger, less experienced operative. However, when things go awry (big time) it's Kate who is held responsible since on paper she is still the officer in charge. Rather than letting the agency blame her, she resigns -giving herself the best possible birthday present - a life.
Next we catch up with Kate in Austin, Texas where she now lives and owns a security business. She impresses her latest client, Brandon Holst, with her security plan and her skills on the shooting range, landing the business deal to protect his company's key software package called Sweeper and a personal relationship with him.
Sweeper is a Y2K program which has the intelligence to seek out dates in a software program and then reinterprets the date so that the end result is a program that appears Y2K compliant. As Brandon Holst points out, it is a patch to buy time to implement the real year 2000 compliant fix. The story plot leads us to understand why the government thinks this solution is too good, and why they want to buy it out before Holst begins to license it. In a surprising twist, we learn why this software program is of interest to the world's latest bad guy - Slobodan Milosevic.
The strengths of the book are in the technical details on Y2K compliance issues,the information on security techniques and the action scenes involving the Donaldson. I thought the plot line to be original regarding the problems that Y2K can wreak. In this novel the Y2K solution is turned into a terrorist tool. This is also the first book that I've read that gets into the politics of the former Yugoslavia republics and the atrocities committed in the name of ethnic cleansing. Pineiro uses information about our latest world villain very effectively - enough so as I don't know how he could stand writing those sections of the book. (Reading them, one can gloss over them quickly...)
The problem with the book is one that is bound to happen to anyone writing in this near real time present. If you look at the other novels in this section (Espionage/Thriller) there is always a combination of real events that have happened in the past which lead to the proposed plot that takes place in the future. In a Y2K novel, this timeline is impossible to hit with any accuracy or credibility. The book starts in February 1999 with a fictional major event - which if it had happened would most certainly have hit the news - thus stretching the book's credibility from the start. The book then leaps ahead to November 1999 and tries to get us to believe that Holst is unwilling to sell his Y2K program to the government since he feels that he'll make far more using the Microsoft paradigm of licensing his program. Comon' who is going to believe that with one month to go that his program is going to be of any value. By this time, most companies have dealt with the Y2K problem as much as they can, have frozen their acquisitions and are just waiting for the clock to roll over. To start marketing a brand new Y2K software package today would be ridiculous - the window is closed. In other words, if the government offered that much money today for his program, Holst would have taken it laughing all the way to the bank.
I am giving Pineiro the benefit of the doubt here and assume that his publisher might have pushed the timeframe in the novel to 1999. At one point he has Kate remark that Friday, November 15" (1999) is a date she won't ever forget. Well I won't either. Here I am sitting in a laundromat on Saturday, November 13, 1999 reading the book. Oops! All along I had been feeling that the dates were wrong. I mean, why hold a major Y2K convention in February 1999 when all of the major discussions were held in the last few years? There are also a number of spelling/grammatical errors in the paperback version I was reading which gave it a "rushed-to-the-printer" feeling. So I checked. Pineiro was mostly likely writing this book in 1996 since that is the year November 15 falls on a Friday. Someone, perhaps Pineiro himself, rushed to get this nearly by-passed manuscript out before the new millennium. Personally, I like enough of the book that I feel it is too bad someone mucked around with it in this way AND then didn't pay attention to detail.
Anyhow, if you can get past the dates, the story is good for this genre of fiction. It's a page turner with some good technical detail. I also liked Kate Donaldson's character - she's a female with strong talent and authority. One that I'd like to see again in a future novel. I am wondering, though, how she can she stand her fiance, Holst, calling her "little lady" at the end of the book? Must be a Texan term of endearment. I'm surprised that some of her well trained instinct doesn't result in her inflicting pain on Holst when he calls her this...
- Amazon reader rating: from 8 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Siege of Lightning (1993)
- Ultimatum (1994)
- Retribution (1995)
- Exposure (1996)
- Breakthrough (1997)
- 01-01-00: A Novel of the Millennium (1999)
- Y2K (October 1999)
- Shutdown (May 2000)
- Conspiracy.com (April 2001)
- Firewall (March 2002)
- CyberTerror (March 2003)
- Havoc (December 2005)
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- R. J. Pineiro home page
- Religious Aspects of the Yugoslavia-Kosovo conflict
- Bookreporter.com review of Conspiracy.com
- BooksnBytes review of Conspiracy.com
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About the Author:
R. J. Pineiro was born in 1961 in Havana, Cuba and raised in Central America. He finished high school in Florida where he learned English before going to college at Louisiana State University. He earned his computer engineering degree in 1983, moved to Austin Texas and begin his career at Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), where he still works on the next generation of processors. He, his wife Lory Anne and their son Cameron make their home in Austin, Texas.