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Whitley Strieber
2012: The War for Souls
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2007

Tor / Forge / Tom Doherty Associates
US First Edition Hardcover
ISBN 978-0-7653-1896-1
319 Pages; $24.95
Publication Date: 09-18-2007
Date Reviewed: 10-01-2007

Index: Science Fiction  Horror

Readers like to know where they are when a book begins, and in '2012: The War for Souls', Whitley Strieber tells you right off the bat. Martin Winters is beneath the Pyramid of Khufu, using new technology to determine just when the structure was built. He's been working on a number of ancient sites in Egypt and South America of late, and he's not yet published his findings for fear he'll be laughed out of the academic world. Beneath Khufu, he hopes and fears he'll find more of the same, and he's not exactly inclined to rock the world. The world however, is not shy about rocking him, and in the aftermath, the reader starts to notice that the tunnels beneath Khufu are perhaps the most familiar place they're going to encounter. When characters pass the emerald arches of Mickey D's, we're finally sure that we're not in Kansas anymore.

Except when we are. '2012: The War for Souls' has more than a few good ideas rattling around, jumbled up with literally every single so-called "New-Age" conspiracy theory you have ever read about, heard or seen scrawled on a restroom wall. '2012' has scenes of spectacular destruction, visions of heaven and hell and more intentional jokes at the author's own expense than you'd ever expect. Coherence on a prose level is but one of the many sacrifices made to the Deity Formerly Known As Satan. Readers who are willing to gloss over occasional lapses in continuity for the sake of a pace that annihilates or nearly annihilates not one, not two but three worlds in a mere 300-something pages will find that Strieber's latest novel is a lucky bag where everyone wins and everyone loses Real Big.

The novel is a fascinating prose product, sometimes craftily written and cleverly constructed, while at other times it seems to be a slipshod mish-mash of disaster movie clich├ęs dashed off by an over-caffeinated Hollywood hack. From the get-go, nobody will be able to accuse Strieber of lacking ambition. A special effects laden spectacular start with the aforementioned archaeologist takes place not on our world, as we're led to suspect, but on a parallel "two-moon" Earth. On that version of earth, on November 21, 2012, fourteen gigantic black lenses emerge from fourteen sacred sites. This is clearly the lead-in for whatever is going to transpire on December 21, 2012, the end of time according to the Mayan Calendar. Martin Winters may have a hand in either preventing it or helping it come to pass.

But on what nominally passes for our world, Martin's story is only a story. It's the latest novel by disgraced Sci-Fi author "Wylie Dale," who clutched fifteen minutes of fame when he wrote a supposedly non-fiction book about being anally probed by aliens. Unfortunately, this novel is writing itself. Wylie can't stop himself from writing it, he can't erase the computer file and he's becoming increasingly certain that his latest book is in fact a chronicle of events happening on a parallel Earth. His wife, understandably, is becoming impatient with his latest trip.

Readers on the other hand will find Wiley a pretty damn delightful creation. Strieber doesn't spare himself in '2012'. He relentlessly lampoons his own work, and it’s quite amusing to read these portions of the novel. Dale and his family — who do live in Kansas, the geographical center of the US — are pretty fun to be around. And as a written construct, these portions of '2012' are, if not sophisticated, at least an interesting literary device. They’re not the usual stuff of blowin'-up-shit bestseller fiction.

This is not to say that '2012' lacks the usual blowin'-up-shit passages, or that those portions are particularly well-written. As events unfold in first one world, then two, then three, Strieber lapses into chase scenes where readers are told to feel terror that is not present in the prose. And when you have parallel worlds with characters who are remarkably similar, the writer has to be clear as to who is who. Strieber seems to think he can sprint past these niceties, and perhaps he can. But the promising early portions with their clever constructions soon seem to be crammed into a cannon and fired in the general direction of the Big Book of New Age Conspiracy Theories.

While '2012' is certainly not Strieber's first novel, in one respect it certainly reads like one. It's got everything in it. This is actually sort of fun. There are so many fringe theories alluded to and included in the plot of this novel that a bibliography of the sources would probably be longer than the novel itself. Shape-shifting extra-dimensional reptiles in the White House, the UFOs of God, Your Eternal Soul, Hell on Earth and Earth as Hell — it's practically non-fiction. To his credit, and perhaps simply as a result of the fact that Strieber's trying to make a small batch of Ultimate Stew, none of these things, with the exception of Love, Love, Love, is taken particularly seriously. But readers who want the entire Encyclopedia of Weird and Unusual Beliefs to be included in a short, action-packed novel need look no further.

'2012: The War for Souls' plays with cool concepts, has some fun plot twists and employs inventive literary tweaks. It's a wild-eyed, late night preacher of a novel, weirdly entertaining, mildly incoherent and prone to make the reader laugh at it as often as with it. Or maybe that's all by design. Maybe it's all a conspiracy. If anyone is going to get a gig working with the shape-shifting reptiles in the White House, it's going to be Strieber. Make us laugh at the destruction of the world will you? It's just a novel from that probed-by-aliens guy, right? Sure, just a novel. No need to worry. You may or may not be in Kansas anymore, but you know where you are. Just hope the person writing the story of your life isn't a horror novelist.

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