Monday, July 19, 2010

The Girl Who Predicted the Twenty-First Century

Over the weekend, I started the third and final installment of the late Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third and final installment of his acclaimed Millennium trilogy.

Okay, the books are thrillers, and unnecessary descriptions of characters' clothing and Ikea shopping trips abound. But they're at least fun. And simultaneously terrifying.

Keep in mind that Larsson wrote these books in 2004 before delivering them to his Swedish publisher. And we should keep that in mind because the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, followed investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander as they toppled a corrupt financial empire. Lisbeth, an unlikely heroine at just shy of five feet tall and with piercings and tattoos, uncovers that this empire has been built on shady speculations, mortgages, and other unsound investments--all of it on the eve of the financial crisis that sent shockwaves through the global economy.

The second book, The Girl Who Played with Fire, is more of a manhunt novel, filled with false accusations and a slightly overabundant population of murders. The best part of that novel: several pages going through a shopping trip Salander takes to Ikea.

But the third novel again strikes me as strangely prescient. Salander and Blomkvist find themselves mired in an attempt to unravel a government conspiracy formulated by an inner circle of Sapo, the Swedish Security Police. The plot has gone out of control, illustrating the underhanded nature of even a democratic government. But also, these plots negatively effect citizens and decimate their personal liberties and reputations. Technically, this secret "Section" of Sapo doesn't exist and isn't documented, but its history over a few decades has had unwieldy consequences.

Then, I checked The Washington Post and found that post-9/11 America could have learned a thing or three from Larsson's novel: our secret bureaucracies have become too unwieldy, too expensive, too clumsy. Nobody really knows what's going on, and the impact could be devastating.

So, as campy and cliche as Larsson's novels can be, I think he possessed freakishly good foresight and insight, the attributes that his novels claim all thinkers--writers, journalists, investigators, hackers, even editors--need to possess in order to fix things up and protect citizens.


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