‘Unheralded Novel’ Portrays Grim Future for U.S.

By Izzy Lyman
Volume 20, Number 4 (Summer 2010)
Issue theme: "Remembering Terry Anderson"

Book review:

2045: A Story of Our Future
by Peter Seidel

Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2009
320 pp, $19

The Year 2045

If you’re in the mood to be pessimistic consider reading Peter Seidel’s 2045: A Story of our Future.

It’s an unheralded novel, written by a Cincinnati architect and planner, but it is unusually prescient.

Synopsis: In 2010, Carl Lauer, a kindhearted, 40-year-old man from Wisconsin, goes into a coma, the life-altering side-effect of an improperly tested flu vaccine. Carl miraculously awakens from his dormant state in 2045 and still looks like the attractive, middle-aged man he was, instead of the creaky senior citizen he should be.

But while he’s also emotionally fit, he will quickly be unsettled by the jarring sights of an America where notions of patriotism and sovereignty are quaint heirlooms. Carl discovers that family farms, well-paying jobs, decent housing, and meaningful relationships are scarce commodities, but surveillance, criminal activity, environmental degradation, terrorism, water shortages, and bread-n-circus is rampant.

Unlike in Orwell’s classic 1984, big centralized government isn’t the source of all evil in 2045. Instead, in a nod to the cyberpunk genre, eight megacorporations are the overlords of this depressing new world.

Carl, who becomes an international celebrity due to his medical miracle, decides to leave the turbulent United States to live on the tropical paradise of Bonique (The entire island serves as a gated community for the wealthy), where, in good faith, he goes to work for one of the Big 8 helping to market a soft drink. Ever the humanitarian, Carl shares his salary with needy relatives stuck back in the dreary homeland, who can barely make ends meet.

During a business trip abroad to Mali, Carl makes a chilling discovery, and (no spoilers here — you’ll have to read the book to learn what it is and how it all turns out).

While this is an easy story to follow, it’s not an exciting one, like the Matrix franchise or a la John Twelve Hawks’ futuristic The Traveler — no urban-chic sensibilities or martial-arts proficient heroes in sight. Nor will it land on any Great Books list, as the dialogue and supporting characters are a tad wooden.

Fundamentalist Christians, as well as climate change skeptics, won’t like Seidel’s liberal take on the Scriptures or global warming.

Seidel’s strength, however, is that his crystal ball reveals a far more authentic look than does the typical dystopian fictional tale at how difficult daily life could be for the average man or woman.

The author is right on about the deleterious effects of globalization and commercialization. Those yearning for a simpler, more individualized existence are likely to be lost in that shuffle, as are those eager to belong to a nation with shared values and customs.

Seidel isn’t shy, either, about noticing that heavily-populated cities (the trademark of this new United States), sans a common language, are stressful places to navigate. If you can’t even communicate with your neighbor, the “we are the world” shtick grows increasingly stale in increasingly crowded quarters.

Simply put, Peter Seidel’s timely, big-picture challenge (to both citizens and rulers) is what changes are you willing to make today to avert potential catastrophe tomorrow?

Tomorrow, by the way, may be fewer than 35 years away. 2045: A Story of Our Future is available from Prometheus Books: www.prometheusbooks.com.

About the author

Izzy Lyman is a freelance columnist who contributes “A Woman’s World” exclusively to the Belgrade News. Reprinted from the Belgrade News with permission.