A geopolitical thriller that aims to please everybody: less gunplay than Tom Clancy, more yuks than Don DeLillo.
J.P. Yates is the sort of expert speaker—among those he addresses are members of governments and corporations—who sells out conventions: He expounds regularly on matters of human longevity, God, porn and whatever else a decent honorarium will dislodge from his brain. But at one gathering in Johannesburg, prompted by a few drinks and a recent breakup, Yates decides he’s had enough and knocks down the house of cards, proclaiming in a speech that “I know nothing” and crowning himself “the founding father of the Coalition of the Clueless.” Both his reputation and his body get roughed up as a reward for his candor, but Yates’s stunt also attracts the attention of a shady quasi-governmental group that invites him to travel the world and report back on anti-Americanism wherever he finds it. In fast-paced prose, Othmer tracks Yates’s travels to Greenland, Italy, Fiji and the mythical war-torn land of Bas‘ar (a stand-in for Iraq), where the truth about his patrons is ultimately revealed. But the main plot isn’t as much fun as the rhetorical detours. Othmer offers a darkly comic vision of a planet slowly but surely sliding into dystopia: Terrorists are busy on the ground, while in space the wealthy residents of an orbiting space hotel asphyxiate on live TV after the oxygen generator malfunctions. By the closing chapters, Othmer’s initial crankiness about our collective self-delusion gives way to full-blown cynicism—any signs that life in Bas‘ar is improving are the invention of press releases and jury-rigged photo-ops. But the tone is much too sober to qualify as a partisan political rant, and Othmer is a sure-footed commentator; Yates’s worries about who’s in charge and what his role is mirrors the concerns of any citizen watching the news.
A shrewd, funny and sometimes brutal vision of troubled times.