Future Tense 

Author predicted -- fictionally -- large-scale terrorist attack in New York City.

In Iranian-born Salar Abdoh's debut novel, The Poet Game (Picador, $12), a terrorist attack by Muslim radicals in New York City is imminent.

The book was released a year before 9/11, and in its aftermath went swiftly into a third printing. Abdoh had predicted, even if fictionally and hardly to the letter, the biggest news of the millennium.

"I'm not saying that I was ecstatic that day, seeing that people were having to jump to their deaths," says the author, a UC Berkeley grad now teaching creative writing at City College of New York. "When I saw the ball of flame heading for us, I felt everything at once, but mostly a certain detached fascination." Later he realized that "oftentimes writers happen to fall a step ahead of events. Look at John Le Carré with Our Game and Chechnya. I had for some years been following events in the Middle East, as well as Islamic terrorism and the game of intelligence. I pretty much knew things were afoot. Before the destruction of the Twin Towers, I had been speaking to someone and just in passing told them they didn't understand the psyche of certain terrorists. The WTC was an unfinished job; they would come back to finish it.

"I felt like going to the CIA headquarters and slapping a few people" after the towers fell. "That's how I felt. It's not that I think I have any special abilities, but for too long the intelligence community has kept from using people who can really do the job. I'd venture to say someone like myself has more knowledge of, say, Iran than the entire CIA, NSA, and State Department Iran desks put together."

Then again, in the wake of the attack, reporters treated Abdoh as if "they believed I have a direct line to all the shadowy figures on the globe." They treated him as a Mideast insider.

"What it made me feel was a bit fraudulent. I know I don't know much, but the amount of garbage I heard from so-called experts made me think perhaps I was not such a fraud after all. On one show, a so-called expert was talking about when the Prophet Mohammed was busy creating the Ottoman Empire ... this expert failed to realize there was about a seven-hundred-year differential between Mohammed and the creation of the Ottomans. After that, I just had to turn the TV off."

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