Tales of the fading millennium A gaggle of writers ponders New Year's Eve, 1999


From The Toronto Star (May 16, 1998)

by Paul McEwan

Disco 2000 edited by Sarah Champion Sceptre, 365 pages, $12.99

One of the only sure things about the dawn of the next millennium is that by the time it is over you'll be sick of hearing about it. That's all the more reason to read Disco 2000 now.

This collection of short stories set in the final hours of 1999 covers the range of possibilities for that New Year's evening, from apocalyptic extra-terrestrial visits to disappointing parties. The theme throughout is one of societies on the brink of tremendous change, for better or worse.

What helps this collection is that the authors, primarily an assortment of young Brits plus a handful of Americans and a Canadian, are generally unconcerned with the present date. They often write as if Jan 1, 2000 was 20 years away rather than 19 months. This greatly expands the possibilities for storylines.

A number of stories deal with media domination of culture. In Pat Cadigan's "Witnessing The Millennium," people begin to disappear and come to believe they must be in front of a video camera to survive. It is an interesting twist on the idea that only those on television matter.

Grant Morrison's "I'm A Policeman" is about the quest to co-opt the eve of the millennium for the ultimate soft drink commercial. This collection is a sequel to Disco Biscuits, a book of stories about rave culture published last year. Many of the stories here are in a similar vein, recounting the adventures of various DJs, clubbers and drug dealers in search of the ultimate party.

Most of these stories are excellent, with the notable exception of Bill Drummond's "Let's Grind." Drummond is best known for his work with dance band The KLF. One gets the impression close friends of his might find this story of art gone wrong mildly interesting. Most others will find it self-indulgent and boring.

The better club stories include the novella-length "Piece Of My Mind" by Courttia Newland. Written largely in the slang of inner-city London blacks, it can be difficult to follow but the story of a shy youth who tries to make his mark on time and place with graffiti is worth the effort.

Charlie Hall's "The Millennium Loop" is one of the better sci-fi tinged pieces. Two DJs on a round-the-world tour get caught in a time loop that makes them drive endlessly through the Australian Outback. The story mocks the importance of time because the protagonists have no idea how long they have been repeating the same actions.

The final story, by Douglas Coupland , seems fittingly Canadian. His drug addict gets hooked through a prescription, not at a party, and spends New Year's Eve alone, earnestly trying to go clean. In what could be seen as a comment on Canadians' quest for the moral high ground, Coupland doesn't let the story end happily.

The variety of styles makes this collection most readable. Considering the theme is already tired, the tales manage to stay remarkably refreshing.

Paul McEwan is a Toronto writer, teacher and student of popular culture.