There are better things to do during a Blackout

Blackout by Marc Elsberg

BOTTOM LINE: A snoozefest

Genre: Thriller & Suspense
Publication Date: 6 June 2017
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss

Synopsis from the Publisher:

“When the lights go out one night, no one panics. Not yet. The lights always come back on soon, don’t they? Surely it’s a glitch, a storm, a malfunction. But something seems strange about this night. Across Europe, controllers watch in disbelief as electrical grids collapse. There is no power, anywhere.

A former hacker and activist, Piero investigates a possible cause of the disaster. The authorities don’t believe him, and he soon becomes a prime suspect himself. With the United States now also at risk, Piero goes on the run with Lauren Shannon, a young American CNN reporter based in Paris, desperate to uncover who is behind the attacks. After all, the power doesn’t just keep the lights on―it keeps us alive.”

My Thoughts: Blackout is supposed to be a timely, prescient thriller that shows a potential future disaster scenario. After all, there has long been a general belief that power grids are extremely vulnerable to hackers and/or terrorist threats. Marc Elsberg simply takes this belief and brings it to life in his Dan Brown-esque story of hackers gone wild.

Unfortunately, there is nothing sexy or intriguing about the power grids across Europe. Instead, they are so complicated that Herr Elsberg has to devote a lot of story time to explain how the grids work in order to explain how the hackers were able to compromise them thus highlighting the brilliance of their plan. The sad part is there is no way to make that large swatch of the novel interesting; it reads like a science textbook, and there is nothing suspenseful about a textbook. While informative – you do walk away from the novel with a greater understanding of how countries generate electricity and how it gets to your house or business – it does not do much to create any tension.

There is also an issue with the large cast of characters, some of whom never even meet. We see the disaster through a German minster’s eyes, through Piero’s eyes, through Lauren’s eyes, through the hackers’ eyes, through various electrical plant workers and regular citizens. The characters jumble together so much that it becomes difficult to remember who is working for the EU, who is working for the local government, and who is a company man. There are simply too many narrators and too little connection between them.

To make matters even worse, readers must accept that Piero is the only person in all of Europe who is capable of uncovering the piece of code that creates havoc in the power grids. They must also accept that he is also the only person who can discover not only the persons of interest but also the overarching goal the POIs hope to obtain as well as their secret communiques telegraphing instructions to each other. Not only that, but in order to discover all of this, he must be involved in a high-speed chase, have others shoot at him, and have the good guys consider him to be the perpetrator. It is all a bit too far-fetched.

I suspect that my main issues with Blackout are due more to the translation than to Herr Elsberg’s original story. The story is tedious in part because of the simplistic syntax used throughout the novel. There is no depth to the sentences, and the word choices are elementary at best. I would almost like to read this in its original German to determine if my hunch is correct; the sentence structure is just too simple for a technological thriller.

Of course, any re-read would indicate a level of interest on my part, and I was not into the story or the characters enough to warrant that. There is no character development. There is no plot development, no backstory, no use of nuanced language. Blackout is nothing but a thriller at its most basic. The comparison to Dan Brown is apt; just switch Piero for Robert Langdon, Lauren for Sophie, the hackers for the Illuminati and the grid disruption for the Holy Grail. The story is plays out in very similar fashion, except one is much more technical and less thrilling.

6 Responses to There are better things to do during a Blackout
  1. Audra (Unabridged Chick)
    May 18, 2017 | 7:36 AM

    Great review. I nearly sputtered out my coffee at Unfortunately, there is nothing sexy or intriguing about the power grids across Europe. because I haven’t read a more true statement yet today.

    • Michelle
      May 19, 2017 | 9:59 AM

      The details of how power grids work across Europe was excruciating. I know the real danger in the story is supposed to be what happens after the lights go out, but I just could not find horror in the collapse of society. I feel like it has been done so many times and written more effectively that Elsberg’s version was anti-climatic.

  2. Ti
    May 18, 2017 | 10:27 AM

    This almost sounds like you were hoping for a blackout so you could stop reading it.

    Power grids. Zzzzzzzz.

    I read a book about a New York blackout once and it was terrifying. All the stuff that instantly happened when the city went dark. Of course, I cannot remember the title of book.

    • Michelle
      May 19, 2017 | 10:01 AM

      I was hoping for a blackout. Or common sense to tell me to stop. I skimmed almost the entire thing because I just wanted to find out whodunit. Even that answer was anti-climatic.

      The real danger in the story is the collapse of civilization once the power is out for more than a day. It was supposed to be scary. I thought it was a scenario that had been much better done in other novels.

  3. Marina Sofia
    May 18, 2017 | 2:51 PM

    Ha! That echoes pretty much what I said about the book in my review, although I tried to be a little more patient with it. I didn’t think of the Dan Brown comparison, but you are right, there is an echo of that.

    • Michelle
      May 19, 2017 | 10:37 AM

      I tried. I did keep reading/skimming it hoping that it would get better. It did not.

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