Sons receive their fathers’ watches in novels from The Sound and the Fury to Black Swan Green. When Yates, the prognosticating protagonist of James P. Othmer’s The Futurist, gets his dad’s timepiece, he finds that it’s set 10 minutes ahead—appropriate for a book so blackly accurate it can predict tomorrow’s headlines. Yates, a “highly compensated observer of the global soul,” navigates a blurb-filled universe of soccer riots and corporate hotshots, doomed space hotels and self-administered Google searches. After he gives a theoretically career-wrecking Jerry Maguire–style cri de coeur in Johannesburg, he finds himself pursued by the sinister but loaded duo of Johnson and Johnson (shades of Tintin’s Thomson and Thompson), who want him to monitor the “degree and variety of hate” bubbling worldwide toward Americans.
Yates ducks his duties by traveling to Greenland (where a dotcom prophet watches icebergs calve) and literally off the map (Déjà Vu, a mogul’s secret Fijian island that straddles the international date line, allowing one to potentially live the same day twice). Othmer has a wild comic touch and a knack for the closed loop, parceling out his hero’s résumé in syntactically repetitive bursts. (“He once sat in on the drums with Wilco”; “He once was an adviser for HeresWhatIDoMom.com, a company that . . . explained people’s nebulous jobs to their confused parents.”)
“Hope for the best, imagine the worst, and come up with a tone of voice,” Johnson instructs Yates. Othmer’s tone recalls Don DeLillo’s—at times too much so. (“All he sees are the privileged and the dead,” reads one White Noise–redolent line.) More interesting is how the author has cleverly programmed his book’s own obsolescence. With cultural referents like Hilary Duff, “a fawning Charlie Rose,” and Zoolander, The Futurist is a novel to enjoy right here, right now, before time renders its meticulous name-dropping totally cryptic.