Review

The Futurist

by James P. Othmer



James P. Othmer's debut novel, THE FUTURIST, centers on a futurist
named Yates who is having a crisis of conscience. A futurist is a
person who is paid to tell his audience --- be they a corporation,
a university, a government or some other entity --- about the
trends and ideas of the future. Yates, for example, has worked for
a think tank and gives lectures on topics such as the future of
greed, terrorism, organic farming and erectile dysfunction
pharmaceuticals. Yates enters the profession an optimist but over
time situations, colleagues and world circumstances make him a
cynic.

His frustrations and cynicism come to a head at the Futureworld
conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. On the way there he finds
a note from his longtime live-in girlfriend dumping him for a
history teacher. He is then witness to a brutal and deadly soccer
riot and watches as the space hotel he endorsed becomes a floating
coffin for the trapped guests orbiting the earth. In a drunken
stupor he answers his hotel door to find that his hosts have sent
him a prostitute named Marjorie whose services he is in no mood
for.

Marjorie challenges Yates to be honest in the conference speech he
is preparing. And he is. He admits to not understanding the
present, let alone the future. He suggests that the entire
enterprise of futurism is a ridiculous sham. He is professionally
humiliated (but only temporarily; soon he's in more demand than he
was before) and thrown out of the conference. Then he is beat up by
two unidentified assailants and finally approached by Johnson and
Johnson, two mysterious men who want him to travel the world and
gauge the anti-American sentiment in an effort to predict future
trouble.

Yates, finding his career options limited, takes Johnson and
Johnson up on their offer. After a surreal pit stop in Greenland,
Yates travels to Milan where he sees a horrific act that leads him
into deep trouble. He sends for Marjorie, who has a violent and
shadowy past she would like to escape, and the two wind up on an
empty tropical island before going to Pennsylvania for the funeral
of Yates's father.

Through all of this Yates continues to question his career as a
futurist, the information he has shared in the past and its impact,
the nature of truth, relationships, and why Americans are hated
around the world.

Othmer's prose is witty and light; the humor belies the seriousness
of his subject matter. THE FUTURIST is short, just under 300 pages,
but Othmer packs in a lot. About halfway through the tale we learn
more about Yates's back story and by the end we have visited his
childhood home and met his ex-girlfriend Lauren (by far the least
eccentric character in the book). We learn much less about Marjorie
who remains a bit of a mystery to readers, if not to Yates. There
is a host of kooky characters including Yates's friend Campbell who
left corporate culture for a secluded life in Greenland, a
part-time model and full-time spy named Chandler, and a British
billionaire who exploits native South Pacific culture to entertain
guests on his private island.

Johnson and Johnson send Yates to Bas'ar, a fictional Middle East
nation, for a conference designed to convince the world that the
violent and war-ravaged country is a model of democracy and the
next hot spot for technology, tourism and the arts. Yates sees
through the ploy and soon enough realizes that if the sound bites
and press conferences aren't convincing, then Plan B involves more
bloodshed, most likely his own. Finally, after years of deceit and
manipulation of information, Yates has a real chance to be a hero
in Bas'ar and redeem himself for past evils and misdeeds.

THE FUTURIST is an interesting tale by a promising writer. The
novel doesn't always feel totally pulled together; there are so
many strands, so many big ideas and it's not always fully cohesive
or focused. But it's entertaining, timely and thought provoking.
Othmer is right on with his satirical critique of contemporary
American culture and politics --- our gullibility and greed as well
as our cluelessness to our position in the world. It is not hard to
like Yates, despite his flaws, and Othmer's other characters are
original and fun.

Not exactly typical summer reading, THE FUTURIST is deceptively
easy to read. But the ideas Othmer presents resonate. Critics and
readers have high praise for this debut despite some of its
awkwardness. It is worth reading, sharing and discussing with
cynics and optimists alike.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011

The Futurist
by James P. Othmer

  • Publication Date: June 12, 2007
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0307275140
  • ISBN-13: 9780307275141