2012: The War For Souls by Whitney Strieber (book review).

December 19, 2019 | By | 1 Reply More

‘2012: The War For Souls’ is the first book that this reviewer has ever read by Whitley Strieber. The end paper notes quite a few novels by Strieber and it seems that most of them are recognised as horror. So Strieber is fairly prolific but is he actually any good?

There are elements of horror in ‘2012: The War For Souls’ but also a fair quantity of fantasy and maybe even hints of SF. The story is quite a smorgasbord of common ideas all rolled up into an odd feeling novel.

It starts off as the story of Martin Winters, who is a leading archaeologist specialising in Egyptology. During a research visit to the Pyramid of Khufu (more commonly known as Giza), he witnesses the destruction of said tomb when a clearly alien device, shaped like a dark lens, smashes its way up through the stone work to hover above it.

Simultaneously, some thirteen similar devices rise up from various other ancient monuments around the world. Naturally, this coincides with the end of the Mayan long-count calendar. Martin comes across as a mildly bright individual but certainly not having the intellect of a world-renowned archaeologist. Anyway, even if he did have a towering intellect, events will very quickly overcome him in rather more physical fashion.

In short order, the devices use strange alien technology to go about destroying the world’s military defences and technological advantages. Martin is summoned to Washington as the leading expert on Egyptology but, shortly afterwards, he finds himself wanted dead or alive as a bounty is put on his head. Clearly, someone or thing in the government sees him as a threat.

So far so good. The book feels like an Egyptian conspiracy theory. What did the ancients know that we didn’t about aliens? However something oddly parallel is taking place. The second main character is Wylie Dale, who is an odd author who wrote a book in an almost trance-like state, about visitors from other dimensions. This was published as a fantasy and was quite successful. Now his publisher and his family expect another success and he has found he is writing in a trance again.

At any time of the day or night, he suddenly finds himself in front of the keyboard having noted out several thousand words. The really odd thing is that he is writing Martin Winter’s story as if it is a fiction. Wylie Dale seems like a rather paranoid individual and doesn’t actually seem like an author at all, which is very apt given later developments. It turns out he has a great deal to be paranoid about!

Things rapidly get worse for Martin. The alien lens devices emit a strange kind of light that apparently separates the human soul from the human body. So here comes the horror as various families are torn apart with the afflicted members wandering off in the same direction like the soulless zombies they are. No one can say why or how and the world is rapidly being brought to its knees.

Meanwhile, Wiley starts to wonder if he is writing the story of another world or simply recording the other worlds events in a strange trance. The implication that there is really more than one world feels quite SF in a `many-worlds’ sense. Martin’s world that Wiley writes about is similar but has a rather different history meaning that certain wars never took place or came out differently and leading to an overall alternative political position. It is clear that Wiley’s world is analogous to our own, while Martin’s is quite different. The reader might also notice that when the book is describing Martin’s story the font is serif but when Wiley’s story is being told the font is sans-serif. The plot thickens.

So far we have an Egyptian ancient conspiracy, alternative worlds and zombie apocalypse all in one. Strieber doesn’t stop there. By the end, he will have stuffed in another altogether more alien parallel world with various other horror tropes. Strieber naturally has a great degree of experience writing novels and technically ‘2012: The War For Souls’ is well-written.

The pacing seems finely judged as it never introduces any of its many disparate elements too quickly. It does not confuse the reader but will sometimes puzzle them. The characters are written well for the most part. In particular, the minor supporting characters are skilfully presented so that they seem more fleshed out than maybe they are. This helps enhance the horror angle as the zombie status is afflicted on lesser characters who we initially accepted as human.

However, there are one or two character reversals that have varying success. One of the military leaders is not who he seems to be. This is fairly well foreshadowed and seems logical when we find out. However, characters close to Wiley suddenly turn out to be hiding some very major secrets. This was so out-of-the-blue that it feels like a deux ex machine, even though in retrospect it is not.

This is symptomatic of ‘2012: The War For Souls’ problems. This book seems to grasp at and bring in concepts from all over the place just because. Although Strieber stitches them all together with a good degree of skill, it doesn’t mean that these concepts do not feel unnaturally juxtaposed. A little research on Strieber suggests he is well-known for horror stories involving visitors from other places and so maybe some of the antagonists are common in his writings. However, taken in isolation, a lot of the villains seem to be there for no particular reason outside of needing an antagonist and similarly motivated like this simply because they are.

This leads to a slightly vacant read that is firmly in the Fantasy Horror camp without the previously suspected SF. It is certainly easy to read and is quite a page-turner. The aforementioned good pacing means that the story is quite often compelling but the subject matter feels overly familiar and somewhat clichéd.

Nonetheless, I can see this appealing to fans of the horror genre but I wonder if it is a little too niche to appeal more widely? I find that I enjoyed the book in parts and sometimes found myself trying to race through to the next good bit. But, overall, I don’t think I shall remember it as a great read but more of a curious one and I cannot help but feel that many other readers would find it much the same.

David Corby

December 2019

(pub: TOR/Forge, 2007. 319 page hardback. Price: $24.95 (US), $31.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-1896-1)

check out website: www.tor-forge.com and www.unknowncountry.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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  1. Dane Praed says:

    Go wayyy back and read “The Hunger” …. and see the film if you haven’t already. 🙂 I had no idea he was still writing. He went through a bit of a kooky phase ie. UFO abduction stories etc and I gave up on him but The Hunger is a classic.

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