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Winds of Change
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Afterword to the softbound edition.


The Octopus and the Orangutan
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The Future In Plain Sight
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Silent Partners
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Buy The Future in Plain Sight at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense. THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT The Rise of the ‘True Believers’ And Other Clues to the Coming Instability Eugene Linden With a New Afterword by the Author for the Plume Edition In THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT: The Rise of the ‘True Believers’ and Other Clues to the Coming Instability (A Plume Book; On-Sale: February 5, 2002), veteran journalist and social critic Eugene Linden offers a provocative way of thinking about the future. “We will know much,” writes Linden, “...if we can answer one question: Will life in the next century be less stable than it is now.” Linden argues that the remarkable stability and economic growth since World War II gave baby boomers a false sense of security, and, more importantly, camouflaged deep forces that will likely plunge the world into a protracted period of economic and social upheaval. Since September 11, Linden’s argument has taken on new urgency as some of these forces have been violently thrust before the public. By outlining the nine clues that will play the greatest roles in shaping our future and examining the potential effects each of them will have on society, Linden presents a clear picture of the challenges that need to be addressed, and the pitfalls of not heeding these warnings. In the chapter entitled “The Rise of the ‘True Believers’” Linden describes how radicals and religious fanatics are both a product of instability in the world today and a likely indicator of greater instability to come. As recent events have proven, any of the clues to the coming instability can have momentous effect; taken as a whole, the nine clues outlined in THE FUTURE IN PLAIN SIGHT could reshape the known world, and in as little as 50 years. Since the dawn of history, prophets, seers and marketing gurus have sought to answer what the future holds, almost to always find their predictions humbled by the whims of fate. In Linden’s case, however, what was published in 1998 as a look at the future looks more and more like a description of the present. Prescient sections of the book examine the destabilizing aspects of religious fanaticism and infectious disease, and describe as well as how they might transform the way we live. For those people wondering whether the world is at the point of a major transition, Linden offers a clear and useful way of looking at the future by taking a fresh look at the landscape of the present. The book deciphers the larger meanings of the wage gap, recurring currency crises in the developing world, changing climate, migration, shriveling supplies of water and other clues to future instability. Then, in a series of scenarios set in such places as New York (where Linden describes a future that Americans can now more easily imagine), London, Northern California, Mexico and the Congo, the author shows the various and often surprising ways in which people react to instability. Some will welcome stronger family ties and the end of youth culture, but an unstable world also may see less innovation and investment. Finally, Linden describes how the potential for instability lies in the very nature of the consumer society itself, and how the world might side step the pitfalls of instability. In a new afterword Linden updates the book to address events, including the attacks on September 11, 2001, that have occurred since initial publication in 1998. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Eugene Linden is an award-winning writer on science, nature, and the environment, whose articles have appeared in many publications, including Time magazine, National Geographic, and The New York Times. In recent years he has consulted for the U.S. State department and the United Nations Development Program, and he is a widely traveled speaker and lecturer. In 2001, Yale University named Linden a Poynter Fellow in recognition of his writing on the environment. Linden is also the author of The Parrot’s Lament (available in a Plume edition), as well as five other books. His newest book, The Octopus and the Orangutan: More True Tales of Animal Intrigue, Intelligence, and Ingenuity, will be published by Dutton in August 2002. Linden lives in Nyack, New York. Visit Plume Books on the web at www.penguinputnam.com Buy The Future in Plain Sight at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books A Million, or BookSense.

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Short Take

[Mild spoiler alert: the book is a fictionalized exploration of a girl who falls under the spell of a Manson-like cult. We all know how that story unfolded. In this Short Take I’ll be offering my reactions to the protagonist, Evie Boyd.]

 

The Girls offers as bleak a view of the amorality of American youth as I have ever encountered. In a review of my first book, I was called “Intolerably apocalyptic,” but I can’t hold a candle to Ms. Cline. The book is a novelistic attempt to try and understand how some of the privileged young women of the late 1960s could commit unspeakable acts while under the sway of a Manson-like psychopath. 

 Thus we meet Evie Boyd, a fourteen year-old growing up amid relative affluence in Petaluma California. She’s directionless, with no apparent passions, self-conscious about her looks, emotionally needy, alienated from her parents (who get divorced), but possessed of a tough inner core and a rebellious streak. She’s enthralled when she encounters Suzanne, a wild, charismatic 19 year-old who seems to be a composite of Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houton, and Evie is honored when Suzanne pays her some attention. Events bring her to the cult’s squalid ranch, and for some weeks, Evie maintains a dual life, throwing herself into the life of the cult, while returning home enough not to galvanize her mother, who is pre-occupied with a rebound relationship with Frank, an entrepreneur who comes across as a hustler with a heart of gold.

Evie is so smitten by Suzanne that she doesn’t notice as the cult spirals down from talk of love and freedom to episodes of paranoia, back-biting and revenge. Along the way, Evie has her first sexual adventures, and enters sufficiently into the spirit of the cult that she brings them to the house of the family next door (which they descrate), even though she has known the family all her life and has no score to settle. Later, Evie talks her way into joining Suzanne as she and others set off to inflict mayhem on a Dennis Wilson-like figure, but Suzanne kicks her out of the car before they begin a horrific rampage.

Did Suzanne do this to protect Evie from what she knew was about to happen, or because she felt that Evie wasn’t a murderer and would become a liability? That’s left unanswered, but the bloodbath that Evie missed is so depraved – including the slashing apart of a toddler – that no human with a soul could find that earlier gesture redemptive … except for our Evie, who still feels the tug of Suzanne’s power, even after she learns every gory detail of Suzanne’s actions.

It’s several months between the time of the murders and when the cult is finally caught. During this time, Evie keeps her mouth shut about what happens and meekly allows herself to be shipped off to boarding school to resume her comfortable existence, though as a wreck, not a spirited teenager.

That’s when I decided Evie was a worthless human being. Sure, she was terrified that the cult would come after her, and there’s some honor on not squealing, but Evie had to know that the cult would likely kill again, and that made her an enabler of whatever they did subsequently.

The book interweaves the present and the past and so we learn how these events haunted Evie’s life. But there’s no redemptive moment, no act where she summons the courage to do the right thing, or rises above her own self-absorption. Even in the present, when the psychopath-in-the-making son of a friend and his underage, impressionable girlfriend crash at her digs, she can only summon a half-hearted (and failed) attempt to save the girl from following the path that so grievously sidetracked her own life.

All the men in the book are either pathetic or pigs of various shapes and forms – except for a premed student named Tom, who sees the cult for what it is, but who Evie rejects as a dork. Towards the end of the book, Evie ticks off a long list of subsequent experiences with awful men that could summon in her the hatred to commit horrendous crimes, seeming to imply that with the right mix of events, she too might have become a Suzanne, and, by implication, so could enormous numbers of other young women.

My first reaction was to call “Bullshit!” Were all young women potential Suzannes, we would have seen endless repeats of the Manson horrors in the nearly 50 years since the events. Instead, those murders still stand as a touchstone of horror because nothing since has eclipsed their mindless violence.

The Manson cult was at the far far end of the normal curve during truly abnormal times. In just the two years leading up to the murders, we had the huge escalation of a senseless war, the explosion of the anti-war movement and counter-culture, a breakdown of generational trust, my generation’s first experiences with powerful, mind-altering drugs, and a sexual revolution. In a country of more than 200 million people, that roiling stew of disruptive forces bubbled to the surface about 20 broken souls, deranged by drugs and in the thrall of a false prophet.

On reflection, however, maybe Ms. Clein was making a different point. All we have to think of are the teenage executioners of Pol Pot’s Cambodia or the child soldiers of Africa to recognize that the capacity for evil lies latent in the young. And, while in fiction we want our protagonists to find redemption or transcend their flaws perhaps Evie’s failure to rise to the occasion was making the point that a civilization that keeps our murderous impulses in check is not innate, but something external that has to be actively inculcated and supported. That’s something to keep in mind amid the current insanity of gun violence, and as more dark clouds gather on the horizon.



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