Book Review: 'Odds Against Tomorrow'

Critic Alan Cheuse reviews the novel Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich. Cheuse says Rich is a young writer to keep an eye on.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

And I'm Robert Siegel. The second novel by Nathaniel Rich is out now. It's called "Odds Against Tomorrow." It tells the story of a not-too-distant future and a math whiz grappling with climate calamity. Here's Alan Cheuse with our review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: "Odds Against Tomorrow" focuses on a Midwestern mathematician named Mitchell Zukor, who develops a wild talent for seeing worst-case scenarios about climate and ecology. He makes projections about the inevitability of super hurricanes and giant, exploding volcanoes. After he graduates from college, he's hired by a conniving New York entrepreneur who immediately begins to make big money from Zukor's predictions. What corporation doesn't want to think it's prepared for the worst case?

When a storm bigger than any Sandy we've ever known floods most of New York City, Zukor, with the help of a young woman from his office, comes into his own, becoming a sort of Nostradamus of the business world. The scenes of the flooding of Manhattan stand out as terrifically described as any in the best science fiction we have. But from Zukor's point of view, things are worse than just flooding. Human beings decay, not even the universe itself was spared from this, he asserts. It, too, was going senile.

Space was cooling, and one by one, all the stars would go out in the sky. Everything was disintegrating, yet here was man, the poor schlemiel, running around with his glue and tape. This brilliantly conceived and extremely well-executed novel - no glue and tape here - it's the opposite of a disaster, a knockout of a book by a young writer to keep your eye on from now on.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

That's Alan Cheuse reviewing Nathaniel Rich's new novel "Odds Against Tomorrow."

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