2012: Science or Superstition by Alexandra Bruce

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2012: Science or Superstition by Alexandra Bruce

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Category: Popular Science
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: With hardly 1,000 days of the world to go, as I write this, we need this book either to explain what the flash fuss is about, or to consign ourselves to living in a bunker somewhere with 10,000 loo rolls and lots of tinned beans.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: October 2009
Publisher: Disinformation
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1934708286

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The fuss about 2012 has not started just recently. The first book to feature the story was from a Yale professor, in 1966. We've also had prog rock bands named after Popol Vuh, the Maya creation myth. But as the crunch date of December 21st, 2012 - the winter solstice that year - nears, it's becoming a very big story indeed. Even though it sounds absurd - the end of a 5,125-year long cycle of the Maya calendar, which started on August 13th, 3114BCE - or was judged to start then, when they came across this concept a couple of thousand years into that period. Surely they couldn't predict the future from their 'primitive' state with such accuracy?

Well, their calendars, for all their complexity, did reach from being matched to human and crop fertility, to centuries-long cosmological cycles. Maybe they had the heads-up after all, for if they've done nothing else it's caused us to look at the 2012 phenomenon with multi-disciplinary, joined-up thinking.

If you're keyed into such ideas you'll relish and admire the fact that 11.11am (GMT) that day will coincide with a galactic alignment of the solstice sun with the Milky Way. I'll leave you to decide how well we can consider the Maya mythology to be a metaphor for space science, and/or predictions built way in advance of 'western' science.

Others have to take an almighty pinch of salt when we look beyond the Maya ideas at such comparative studies. There are quacky concepts aplenty of mankind's five stages, which either involved the Earth starting off orbiting Saturn, or with man being an almightily tall angel, or both. Out of such nonsense we actually get some sense from Graham Hancock, when he points out that all the stories of the deluge from around the world blame mankind - what looks at humanity will we cast as we approach the almighty end, or change, or whatever, that is due us?

It's a complex cultural idea for anyone to fully write about, and while Alexandra Bruce has certainly made it less complex, I don't think she went much beyond the satisfactory in discussing it. The structure of her book seems rather amiss, and scatty. It looks at the origins of it all, in MesoAmerica, compares it to other world myths and ideas, before building to considering what might actually happen on that day, and how the ideas have spread from that first book to the tabloids.

But there's a mish-mash quality to everything. Some - shall we say unusual? - ideas about geology feature twice, and are looked at with greater detail first time round, so why the repeat? In the large chapter concerning what we might expect in 2012 she largely looks at just one writer's list of potential dooms for mankind, and as so many are wrapped up in pseudo-science and meaningless panic-mongering - which Bruce nicely puts in its place - she might have widened her search from one man's ideas.

However the book read better than I thought. There are box-outs and interview excerpts presented as asides, which I thought would make for a bitty read. Not at all - counter my experience and intuition, this book flows just as one would wish.

I get the impression that Bruce can write about anything in an amenable fashion - hardly does her copious research get the better of her, and she's a clear conveyor of science - if you like her sometimes chatty style. But the huge glossary at the back had details in it that should have been in the main text - the latter was not too academic it could not have borne tales of letters from Norwegian politicians and rumours of worldwide survival bunkers.

There is a lot of fun here, as well as a lot of eschatology, which sounds heavy but isn't. We see the idea that Cromwell is to blame for some of our restrictive scientific thinking, and meet the people who think the clues to it all are in the crop circles. Elsewhere people suggest Obama, Gordon et al drop some MesoAmerican drugs to attune themselves cosmically. Man.

Perhaps more importantly, we also see what the current-day Maya think of all the hoo-hah.

I still don't know what might happen in a couple of years' time. With the awareness that Terence McKenna was looking through a haze of narcotics and found that the I-Ching, more modern software and other ideas progress towards infinity and when any number of events that are currently unimaginable can be expected to occur in a blaze of cosmic randomness, like a certain Douglas Adams spacecraft engine - ALSO on December 21st, 2012!, I'm none the wiser. But I'm certainly more knowledgable through these pages about how inter-connected so much is.

This is looking at the ideas with a scientific head, and - despite the website based on the date and the subtitle being www.2012sos.net (I ask you!) - it's a lot less judgmental than many other volumes. With a final spark to the writing, and a better defined journey through all the details, this book would readily have sold as many copies as all the doom-mongers. I'm fairly sure someone will be taking lots of royalties about the whole thing come 2013, however.

I must thank the publishers for our review copy.

The fictional side of this is covered in The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott, for the adults, and in The Joshua Files: Ice Shock by M G Harris for the younger readers. If you dismiss this, find other ways to die in A is for Armageddon by Richard Horne.

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