The fictional forecast: Chaos with a chance of war

What you'll be talking about: 2012. Former counterterrorism official turned bestselling novelist Richard A. Clarke releases his latest book, "Breakpoint," about a future just five years from now when attacks on American technology bring the nation to the brink of war with China. Despite a sprawling story that includes labs growing designer children with extra chromosomes, and the mass suicide of robotic personal assistants, Clarke says the book is meant to be "predictive." (Tuesday)

What you'll be talking about whether you like it or not: "American Idol VI." Fox breathes a sigh of relief as its not-so-secret weapon gets trotted out for the sixth time in 4 1/2 years. That's right. "Idol" is back and with it, a nation's obsession. (Tuesday, Wednesday)

What we'll be talking about: This week the comedy album "Wanda Sykes: Sick & Tired" becomes available. She released a DVD of the same name in October, but now you can listen to Sykes' bits, including "Stripper Therapy," "No Nukes," "Space Program" and "My Uterus" on your morning jog (after you've put it in your iPod). (Tuesday)

What you'll be talking about all year: Shrek-mania. We're still in the wee hours of the new year, but everyone is already buzzing about "Shrek the Third," the third installment (duh) of the most successful animated franchise ever. To get the kids psyched, the video game "Shrek Smash 'n' Crash" for Nintendo DS comes out this week, adding to previous titles such as "Shrek 2 Beg for Mercy." (Monday)

What is becoming slightly less fun to talk about: The Golden Globes. It's that time of year when about 100 foreign industry journalists get to tell America what they did and didn't like, and for once, we hear them loud and clear. Sadly, the drunken acceptance speeches of yesteryear are no longer de rigueur. Dang it! (Monday)

What you'll be TV geeking about: "24." Last year's four-hour premiere event began with an explosive 10 minutes, which included the assassination of David Palmer. This year, the producers build the tension more gradually, but by the end of the fourth hour, the U.S. has experienced an attack like no other and it seems certain that Jack Bauer will never be the same. "24" had its highest-rated season last year and the show won the Emmy for best drama, with Kiefer Sutherland winning for best actor. Our TV staff says those who loved that season won't be disappointed by the beginning of the new one ... (Today and Monday)

-- DEBORAH NETBURN

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