'Odds Against Tomorrow' Review: The Future is Upon Us

With his sly and profound novel, Nathaniel Rich mines the terror of our times

Nathaniel Rich Odds Against Tomorrow
Courtesy Macmillan
Nathaniel Rich's novel Odds Against Tomorrow.
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There's a long tradition of destroying New York in books and films – icing it under mile-thick glaciers, winding its monuments in ivy, turning its skyscrapers into reefs. Increasingly, those scenes don't feel like wild plot twists. Case in point: Just as Rolling Stone contributor Nathaniel Rich was editing the final proofs of Odds Against Tomorrow, his irresistible literary thriller about a near-future New York consumed by a Category 3 hurricane, superstorm Sandy arrived. "I felt like the book had been adapted for television by every cable news station," Rich says. "All of the sudden there were these images everywhere of a flooded Manhattan. It was horrible. And it had all been predicted."

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Through the book's hero, Mitchell Zukor – a futurist with an unprecedented knack for calculating the odds on everything from global pandemics to mega-volcanoes – Rich mines the terror of our times, looking at how relentless fear-mongering both keeps us in line and make us strangely helpless in the face of actual peril. When the massive storm at the heart of Odds hits, Zukor is transformed by bearing witness to the difference between number-crunching disasters and experiencing the tragedy of real catastrophe. He paddles up "the alien gray river" of Third Avenue, past bloated bodies and the flotsam of urban life, through "the colossal silence of a city emptied." When he reaches higher ground, he's mobbed by people who revere him as a prophet: What's going to happen to us? But as this slyly profound novel makes clear, we know the answer: global warming, overpopulation, water shortages, supergerms. The future, it seems, is already upon us.

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"Usually, dystopian novels end up in some distant future, where there's time to change things," says Rich. "I think that kind of novel is almost impossible now. Reality is sufficiently dystopian. So the big question is: How do we survive it? How do we deal with it intellectually and emotionally?"

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