Odds Against Tomorrow
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NEW YORK CITY, the near future: Mitchell Zukor, a gifted young mathematician, is hired by a mysterious new financial consulting firm, FutureWorld. The business operates out of a cavernous office in the Empire State Building; Mitchell is employee number two. He is asked to calculate worst-case scenarios in the most intricate detail, and his schemes are sold to corporations to indemnify them against any future disasters. This is the cutting edge of corporate irresponsibility, and business is booming. As Mitchell immerses himself in the mathematics of catastrophe--ecological collapse, global war, natural disasters--he becomes obsessed by a culture's fears. Yet he also loses touch with his last connection to reality: Elsa Bruner, a friend with her own apocalyptic secret, who has started a commune in Maine. Then, just as Mitchell's predictions reach a nightmarish crescendo, an actual worst-case scenario overtakes Manhattan. Mitchell realizes he is uniquely prepared to profit. But at what cost? At once an all-too-plausible literary thriller, an unexpected love story, and a philosophically searching inquiry into the nature of fear, Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow poses the ultimate questions of imagination and civilization. The future is not quite what it used to be.
it’s not,” said Mitchell, and they were both momentarily alarmed by the emotion in his voice. But Jane avoided discussing Poisson distribution models in her consultation meetings and, for that matter, the jump-diffusion model, the constant elasticity of variance model, and the generalized autoregressive conditional heteroskedasticity model. She saved those for their work sessions. In her consultations she kept it easy, personal. The saleswoman’s flirtatiousness came naturally; the hucksterism
thought he was a little mad, and a little depressed, even by U. of C. standards. He may have understood numbers, but everyday life was too complex for him. We felt for him, we did—he’d had it tough from the start. His name was its own kind of worst-case scenario, a throwback to an era of midwestern Anglo-Saxon gentility. Mitchell. Who named their child Mitchell? Parents with high aspirations and antiquated ideals. From his mother, a stout, fair Missourian, he inherited a twangy Ozark accent, flat
a blood pressure cuff, and the remains of a shattered jar of tongue depressors. The depressors had spilled onto the floor, which was a pattern of checkerboard squares done in brown and silver. An old thermometer lay at the edge of the counter, and Mitchell bent to read it. It must have been broken, because it read 208°F. Mitchell wiped a great sleeve of sweat from his face. There was no other person in the room. At the far end, there was a brown door. Mitchell’s thinking began again to slow down
“I don’t think you are,” said Mitchell, soundlessly. “I don’t think you’re anywhere.” “Then why can you hear me?” said Elsa. Mitchell didn’t have an answer to that one. “It’s like this for me,” she continued. “Walking down a long track through darkness, unable to see or hear anything.” “Are you in pain?” “I am not going to answer that.” “We’re more similar than we’re different, aren’t we?” “We do have something in common,” said Elsa. “Obsession.” “There aren’t so many like us, you know.
move. How was this possible? It didn’t expand or contract, just stayed fixed in the highest part of the sky. And it really was watching him, wasn’t it? Just staring at him, waiting for him to move. “You first,” said Mitchell without sound. “Nope,” said the cloud. “I got nowhere to be.” “That’s two of us.” “Fine,” said Mitchell. “Suit yourself.” Even as the swamp flies, or whatever they were, started flapping around his eyes, as the bark beetles scaled his bare arms and the grass scratched