REVIEW: 2012: The War for Souls by Whitley Strieber
REVIEW SUMMARY: A schizophrenic, somewhat self-parodying story of parallel worlds, apocalypse and ancient civilizations.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Earth of Martin Winters is invaded by an alien species, an ancient civilization from a parallel world entering through gates opened during the 2012 age change, while Wylie Dale in a third parallel world tries to understand how he can know and write about these events without being there.
PROS: Imaginative apocalypse; action picks up the pace in the middle and end.
CONS: Starts slow, uneven beginning; little to no science explanations of many phenomena; somewhat contrived ending (could be related to ‘no science’)
BOTTOM LINE: An intriguing hypothesis of a possible apocalypse at year 2012, slowed down by jumps in point of view, characters that are difficult to care about and lack of hard science.
Much has been written about 2012, the predicted “end of the present age” found in the Mayan calendar, Hopi traditions and Vedic literature. Contemporary non-fiction and fiction authors have used it as fertile fodder, suggesting everything from a consciousness evolution (2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl by Daniel Pinchbeck, and others) to a shift in the magnetic poles to a self-induced disaster in the face of global calamity (like my own book, Dusk Before the Dawn, reviewed by SF Signal here). Heck, so much disaster is attributed to 2012 that it is probably when the Earth is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass. Or, like Y2K, we may all sleep through it.
Whitley Strieber has authored fiction and non-fiction crossing several genres. His fiction career began in horror, with tomes such as The Wolfen and The Hunger, and he has also penned previous apocalyptic books such as Warday (nuclear apocalypse) and The Coming Global Superstorm (which was source material for the movie The Day After Tomorrow). Mr. Strieber is also the author of a series of books documenting his abduction by aliens, starting with Communion.
Horror, apocalypse and abduction all come together thematically in 2012: The War for Souls. There are a lot of concepts thrown together here: the capturing of souls (reminiscent of the soulwave from Robert J. Sawyer’s The Terminal Experiment); Starship Trooper-like alien soldiers; parallel worlds, the number 14, and politics are all mixed into the stew for good measure.
Archeologist Martin Winters is excavating a pyramid in Egypt, proving out a Graham Hancock-esque theory that the civilizations that created the pyramids and other ancient works is 18-20,000 years old. But the pyramid collapses, simultaneously with other ancient sites around the world, to be replaced by giant lenses. Fourteen of them, to be exact, “each one is exactly six thousand two hundred twenty miles from an axis point eleven hundred miles from the north pole.” As Martin and others in his world deal with this calamity, Wylie Dale is writing the story on his laptop, in some kind of a trance. Wylie has been the victim of alien abductions and apparently sees through to Martin’s world.
The apocalypse comes to Martin’s world quickly. He meets General Al North and his boss, General Tom Samson, with the President of his world’s United States, a lesser power compared to the British and the French. Nuking the lenses is discussed, and Martin heads home to the chaos that is Kansas. Most electronics, including communications, are rapidly wiped out. Then the souls start being “extracted”…by the millions. And the zombie bodies that are left start marching north.
The rest of the novel (without giving away spoilers) follows Wylie as he and his family try to determine his level of sanity or whether he can actually see into parallel worlds, Martin as he tries to help his family whom he thinks have all been turned into zombies, and the aliens, who, of course, have been amongst us all along, and have problems on their home world that make them need to take over our world. Generals North and Sampson play wildly divergent yet important roles which again cannot be revealed without spoiling the show. They are true rivals in every sense of the word.
As a fanboy of apocalyptic ideas and fiction, the idea of the fourteen lenses which created gateways to other worlds, located in fourteen ancient ruins around the sacred circle was unique and creative. Many have discussed in fiction and non-fiction the possibility that these ruins are much older than previously believed and some have speculated that they were created by an alien race.
A suspension of believability is required by the readers to follow this premise and others in the books. Extraction of souls, gateways/holes between parallel worlds and the use of the fourteen lenses are all great plot tools, but a little explanation would have raised the believability quotient. We all have our perspectives and expectations. This book is published by Tor (a sci-fi house) and it’s classified as science fiction; this reader’s expectation included at least an attempt at plausibility, and this was not met. There are little pieces of “assume this is ok”, which could use a little more detail. For instance, Martin is looking for where the souls are kept:
A map was thrust into his mind as if into his hand, accompanied by a red flush of anger. It was a Google map centered just west of Holcomb. A shock went through him. “Zoom,” he said. “Again.” The map now pointed to a particular crossroads.
As indicated at the beginning of this review, a hefty volume of the 2012 literature to date has to do with either complete world disaster or consciousness evolution. Strieber combines both of these possibilities into the fabric of his novel, with an interesting account of the spiritual evolution process that involves laying aside fear and self-isolation.
There’s a little bit of politics thrown in, with names of real-life people showing up in interesting bit parts in the novel (again, no spoilers). There’s also some excellent self-parody, as Wylie (who is a writer like Strieber) talks of being ridiculed for his writing of alien abduction and his son in the novel has been taunted about it in class. And again without spoilage, the ending is quite “Disney-esque” for an apocalyptic thriller.
It’s a quick read, with some interesting concepts of both how the end of the age signified by 2012 might manifest, and some dark and some hopeful outcomes of this apocalypse.
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