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The Futurist: A Novel

The Futurist - James P. Othmer AUTOPSY REPORT:In the case of: "The Futurist"Date accessioned: 15 Sept 2010Date completed: 23 Sept 2010Clinical Summary: Specimen was discovered on bookstore shelf. A cursory twenty-page assessment was not suspicious for significant pathologic change. No witnesses were present. No suicide note has been identified. Gross Examination: On dissection, the following contents were discovered inside this book:characters I hate (5)excessive cliché (too much to quantify)unimaginative plot devices (at least 3)annoying character contrivances (1 major, several minor)artless symbolism (1 major instance, multiple minor)Diagnosis: Shit Sandwich. Etiology: Uncertain; cannot rule out bored or incompetent author.Motive: Uncertain; possibly terrorism/torture, or psychosis.Lessons Learned: Twenty pages is not always sufficient to predict whether a book will be any good.Legal Status: Unresolved; author still at large.Predictions: critical acclaim, a sequel.REVIEW OF FACTS:The Futurist (Advance Reading copy) caught my eye in the bookstore, and somehow held my interest through the first twenty pages, so I bought it. I should have known better. For one thing, I think the job title “futurist” is complete bullshit. The only two people I’m aware of who have had the gall to bestow this ridiculous title on themselves are Ray Kurzweil , who I consider a megalomaniacal sociopath, and Alvin Toffler , who I have a difficult time taking seriously. If I had to generalize, I’d say “futurists” are hucksters who prey on peoples’ insecurities- people who are looking for somebody else to tell them where the next big threat or opportunity will arise. There is big lecture circuit money to be made in this particular flavor of snake oil sales. As author James Othmer illustrates, the futurist is mostly in the business of either telling people what they want to hear, or selling them somebody else’s agenda. There is probably no such thing as an unbiased futurist. Actually, this book seems to agree with me on that point ...but I still hate it.This book introduces you to Yates. His first name is never revealed, which I find annoying. He is an acclaimed and very comfortable futurist. After establishing himself in the business at least a decade ago, he is just now starting to become disillusioned, which suggests he is exceptionally dimwitted, despite Othmer’s attempt to build him up as brilliant. What Yates really is, is a spoiled, poor-little-rich boy, sipping fine wine in private jets, and “tortured” by the hypocrisy and vacuousness of his life. If you managed to forget why you hated every character on Beverly Hills: 90210, this book will set you right.When Yates’ one-dimensional, pure-evil, bitch-from-hell girlfriend dumps him (she’s been cheating on him, of course), something in his brain snaps. He decides to scrap the speech he prepared for his next gig, and instead tells the audience what he really thinks!!! Sound familiar? It should. Tom Cruise did this as Jerry Maguire, and Dudley Moore’s character did it in Crazy People. Unlike in those movies, however, Yates’ moment of honesty initially costs him his job, but eventually, as people see the truth in his words, it brings him greater success!! Oh, wait..So the plot is a predictable cliché. Well, that doesn’t have to kill the book for you. Maybe there are some good characters along the way, like Yates’ platonic friend Marjorie. She's a prostitute with a heart of gold! Surely that’s never been done before. How about Yates’ old college roommate, Campbell? (again with no first names) Here’s a fresh new character: the software billionaire friend whose privileged lifestyle gives our protagonist a more grounded perspective on life. (Blech) He would no doubt be played by Pierce Brosnan in the movie version (God forbid) of this book. How about Amanda Glowers, Yates’ one-dimensional, pure-evil, bitch-from-hell female professional rival? (this is a somewhat misogynistic book) The only character you might not see coming is Magga: Campbell’s 6’8” Greenlandic nympho girlfriend, who drives around in an armored personnel transport, and whose father is at the head of Greenland’s mafia. I guess she was invented to spice things up by adding an element of surreal improbability. FAIL. Instead she makes this whole contraption feel even more contrived and unconvincing. I wonder if Othmer’s first draft was too boring, and the editors made him conjure her up. She really contributes nothing to the story.So what happens in this book? A lot of jet setting. Lots of enjoyment of luxury (Campbell’s mansion in Greenland). Lots of stomping about and feeling oh-so desperate!(more champagne, please), oh-so lonely! and oh-so empty! (pass the Cuban cigars) Yates’ distant father, a completely undeveloped character to that point, passes, creating the opportunity for a “heartbreaking” scene of grief. Yates is so vulnerable! -so human! (yawn) He is blackmailed into doing some more gigs as a futurist, promoting various projects he doesn't really believe in. (“I keep trying to leave, and they keep pulling me back in!!”) The space hotel Yates’ once praised as mankind’s first commercial gateway to the stars has a catastrophic accident and burns up on re-entry. It’s almost, you know, like a symbol for something. Othmer wraps this mess up with a big finale, in which Yates (still under blackmail) goes to a Potemkin commerce convention in Iraq to declare the country open for foreign investment. There is an attempt on his life, which he narrowly escapes, and he then declares himself finished with futurism forever. Hooray!