“Blackout” by Marc Elsberg

Blackout“Blackout” by Marc Elsberg grabbed me from the start with a car crash caused by a traffic light outage; traffic signals should work and to be obeyed. What happens when electricity goes out — everywhere? In this non-stop thriller with action that could be from any day’s newspaper headlines. Life comes to a screeching halt as a massive power failure hits all over Europe and the players desperately try to find the cause and the culprit as the outage spreads.

The main character in the book is the power grid itself where generators and power traders supply energy to people and industry through computer-controlled grids and smart electric meters. This tightly interconnected grid provides electricity to people and industry much as the circulatory system takes life-blood throughout the body. When the grid goes down, everything else falls like dominoes, transportation, shopping, food supply, health care, industry, even civilization itself.

The plot follows several groups of “secondary” characters (after the main character, the power grid), and as the action jumps back and forth all over Europe, each section is carefully defined with the geographic local to help readers keep track of the action. The characters represent a cross section of society devastated by the loss of power, the elderly, the reporter, the power representatives, the IT specialists, the law enforcement personnel, and the underground society.

No one escapes the devastation, and no one remains unscathed. The book has death and destruction, but it is not graphic, just incredibly gut wrenching and frighteningly realistic.  This is the digital age’s worst nightmare, and as one reads, the possibility that this could actually happen becomes all too real.

This book was so real that it was terrifying.  The book was originally published in Germany, and the translation into English was first-rate. In the years since its publication, the scenario has become even more real and even more frightening.  This is not the sort of book I usually read, but this one was fantastic and frightening at the same time. I received a copy of “Blackout” from Sourcebooks Landmark, Marc Elsberg, and NetGalley to review, and I’m glad I read it — I think.

The next time any of us laugh at reports of fringe “preppers” practicing for the end of the world, we should, perhaps, think again.