"Odds Against Tomorrow"
By Nathaniel Rich
Mitchell Zukor is a disaster waiting to happen - and waiting for disasters to happen to himself and the rest of us.
The lonely neurotic at the center of Nathaniel Rich's comically bleak novel, "Odds Against Tomorrow," is nervous for a reason. The recently graduated "quant" is good with numbers and not so good with people, prompting him to come up with probabilities for all kinds of worst-case scenarios in his spare time.
Then a slogan in an online ad catches his attention: "Find out what the future will cost you." It belongs to FutureWorld, a startup that helps companies survive the aftermath of a catastrophe - when people rise from the rubble and sue.
Not that FutureWorld protects against disasters. It advises companies on what could happen, then serves as a scapegoat should disaster actually strike. FutureWorld provides a bulwark to charges of negligence. A limited liability statute slipped into state law protects FutureWorld from civil lawsuits.
Mitchell turns into the perfect salesman for FutureWorld. The panicky nerd not only researches terrible possibilities - nuclear wars, bird flu pandemics and terrorism are just part of his repertoire -he also presents them to clients with a frightening earnestness. It's a highly prized skill when a hurricane bears down on New York City, a potential rainmaker for Mitchell in more ways than one.
The Cold War film "Dr. Strangelove" poked horrible fun at the idea of surviving a nuclear war. In a similar vein, "Odds Against Tomorrow" draws its subtle, cutting humor from a post-Sept. 11 world in which two out of five people worry about a relative being a victim of terrorism when the actual risk is astronomically low.
Rich wryly observes human anomalies as he spins out the story of a smart young man who finds comfort in what he knows - even if it's fear and panic. Sound familiar?
Douglass K. Daniel, The Associated Press
"VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave"
By Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter, and Martha Quinn with Gavin Edwards
Long before Snooki, there was music. It seems quaint to remember a time when Americans didn't have cable TV, before music videos and reality stars, but the original MTV VJs describe the beginning of one of the most influential media experiments of all time in "VJ: The Unplugged Adventures of MTV's First Wave."
Video jockeys Nina Blackwood, Mark Goodman, Alan Hunter and Martha Quinn - with help from rock writer Gavin Edwards - provide an oral history of the launch of the network that pioneered unscripted entertainment, and brought Michael Jackson's dance moves and Jon Bon Jovi's hair into our living rooms.
The book is an easy-to-read compilation of interviews with the VJs. A fitting subtitle would be "Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll." The VJs' candor about their relationships and behind-the-scenes antics and politics will be nirvana for pop culture fans.
It's a totally tubular testament to the excess of the '80s, chock-full of the crazy stories you'd expect.
"VJ" will evoke nostalgia in readers who remember the '80s. Grateful for their role in the MTV revolution, the authors say when watching it today, they don't recognize the network they helped build. Reality hits like "Jersey Shore" and "Teen Mom" have replaced most of the videos.
But MTV is always evolving. As Goodman says, we can blame the network for changing the face of entertainment. "We're the reason you have no attention span. And you can pin reality TV on us too. You're welcome."
Brooke Lefferts, The Associated Press