Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Reviewing the Island of Paradise

NOTE: This review was first published in the new issue of Stuart Miller's Alien Worlds magazine. Thanks to Stuart for letting me republish the review right here.

Island of Paradise

By Jonathan Downes

A Review by Nick Redfern

As someone who is themselves an author, I am often asked to write reviews of other people’s books. And so, when Alien Worlds’ editor, the good (most of the time, at least) Mr. Miller, asked me if I would be willing to review the latest mighty tome from British writer, crypto-zoologist, and director of the Devon-based Centre for Fortean Zoology, Jonathan Downes, I immediately said yes.

Reviewing Jon’s book, Island of Paradise – which is an on-the-road, warts-and-all, study of a week-long expedition to Puerto Rico in 2004 in search of the infamous Chupacabras – was somewhat of a departure for me; and I’ll tell you why.

The vast majority of all the books I review are focused upon the adventures and exploits of other people. Island of Paradise, however, is very different; in the sense that it’s a book in which I play a central role. Nevertheless, I hope this has not influenced my opinion of the book!

It was in the summer of 2004 that Jon and I headed off to the rain-forests of Puerto Rico, courtesy of the Sci-Fi Channel, who wanted to film us chasing the Chupacabras and UFOs for its now-defunct show Proof Positive – which was a pretty well executed combination of The X-Files meets CSI, albeit in a non-fiction format.

For seven days we rampaged and roamed around the island in search of the vampire-like beast, and heard tale after tale of crashed UFOs, dead aliens, bizarre conspiracies linking the Chupacabras with extra-terrestrial experimentation, secret military operations, black ‘Flying Triangles’, and much more. And, thanks to Jon, the whole story of that distinctly bizarre week is now finally chronicled in print.

The best way I can describe Island of Paradise is as a Fortean version of Hunter S. Thompson’s fabulous The Rum Diary that told of the master’s own journalistic adventures on Puerto Rico back in the 1950s.

Jon skilfully captures the essence of what makes Puerto Rico so magical, in terms of its history, its culture, its people - and its overwhelming weirdness, too. Truly, as Jon demonstrates, Puerto Rico is a locale that attracts the adventurer and the thrill-seeker like no other. And given that it was a veritable hot-bed of activity of the ufological, vampiric and downright uncanny kind, what else could I, or indeed we, do but welcome the aforementioned weirdness with wide-open arms.

If Jon and I were going to spend a week hunting vampires and/or aliens courtesy of the Sci-Fi Channel, then, as he reveals, there was no better place to do it than deep within the heart of the island of paradise, and while regularly fuelled by the finest of local cuisine and a plentiful supply of ever-present chilled margaritas and imported beer. Onward!

Having digested Jon’s book, I can safely say that one thing stands out more than any other: only an adventure involving the Centre for Fortean Zoology could result in a deep discussion of Fireball XL5, Earl Grey Tea, Guantanamo Bay, Chupacabras DNA, Roswell, and the United States’ ominous Department of Homeland Security!

I was pleased to see that Jon included in the pages of his book a description of our time spent at our base of operations: the Wind Chimes hotel in downtown San Juan. For those who weren’t there, it might seem superfluous; but for Jon and me it was a time to rekindle a friendship that had been separated by the Atlantic for a couple of years; and it was a time to make new friendships with the Sci-Fi Channel’s crew.

There is something unique about the camaraderie that comes with hanging out alongside fellow thrill-seekers and adventurers – all from different corners of the globe, most not even knowing each other, yet all thrust into a strange and surreal quest to seek out the truth about a diabolical beast said to roam a real-life paradise.

But, Jon demonstrates, it was without doubt the day we go our hands on a shining, silver jeep that things really took off…

There’s something special about driving around in an open-top jeep in a place like Puerto Rico with one of your best friends, with the wind in your hair (for those who have hair…), and in hot pursuit of the unknown, while ear-splitting punk rock reverberates out of the CD player.

Barely one hour into our expedition, as Jon records, everything got a bit surreal. No expedition of this type would be complete without an excursion into the darkened depths of a shadowy old cave. That a bat decided to piss on my head while we were in there only made things more memorable. With much humour, Jon records how I decided not to bother with rabies injections of a type that Ozzy Osbourne was forced to undergo after his own legendary encounter with a bat; and instead I hoped that the little pisser wasn’t rabid, and that I wouldn’t wake up the next day like one of the frenzied souls from 28 Days Later or the spectacular 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead. Needless to say, I didn’t.

Of course, I knew that all of this would serve as good fodder for Jon’s planned book on our trip around the island, and so I merely wiped my head with my bandanna, swore at the offending beast and his or her brethren and continued roaming and filming. And a crew of a dozen, led by the good Mr. Downes himself, laughed heartily!

Perhaps of most interest to readers of this magazine is what Jon has to say about an alleged UFO crash deep in the El Yunque rain-forest of Puerto Rico back in 1957. Jon tells the reader of our fascinating encounter with a woman named Norka who was able to fill in some of the gaps suggesting that at least something had genuinely crashed on Puerto Rico back in the 1950s, and who was also a veritable fountain of knowledge on all-things monstrous too.

As long as I live, I will never forget that moment when Norka told us of her own personal encounter with the Chupacabras late one night in 1975, and Jon and I turned to each other and realised that the beast Norka had seen was practically identical to the notorious Owlman of England – a creature that Jon had hunted, and been haunted by, for years. It was truly a pivotal moment in that memorable week.

As we sat on the balcony of Norka’s beautiful home high in the hills of El Yunque, sipping cold drinks, listening to her stories, and with the sun bathing down on us, I knew that we were experiencing something very special, and that beneath its beautiful exterior, something – or some things - dark, ominous, dangerous and bizarre dwelled on the island. And Jon’s chapter on this particular encounter most certainly does not disappoint.

One of the things that stood out for me upon reading Island of Paradise was how the initial quest quickly became something very different – and particularly so when new, and unforeseen, factors came into play. We had flown to Puerto Rico with the intention of trying to determine, for the benefit of the Sci-Fi Channel, if we could find, examine and identify any evidence for the existence of the Chupacabras – such as undeniable DNA. Yet, by the end of the week we were deeply immersed in stories of crashed UFOs, genetic mutation, bizarre changes in the island’s ecology and much more.

I will never forget that week in the summer of 2004 when Jon and I roamed Puerto Rico’s rain-forest, its lowlands and its little villages in search of monsters, UFOs and aliens. It was an experience that will stay with me for all my life, and one that (as the book records) was as much about friendship, adventures and good times as it was about hunting for the Chupacabras and for the remains of wrecked alien spacecraft. And at the end of the day, that was good enough for me.

As for Jon: well, Island of Paradise tells it all, just as it was – the good, the bad and the plain strange.

If you’re looking for the definitive book on the Chupacabras, its potential links with the UFO controversy in general (and crashed UFOs in particular), and what goes on behind the scenes of an on-site, week-long investigation in an exotic and mysterious world, then Island of Paradise is most definitely the one for you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

2012, Marie Jones and More...

Just recently I reviewed right here the new book from Marie Jones, 2013: The End of Days or a New Beginning? Marie has just written a highly illuminating and intriguing essay on the theme of her book, and here it is:

2012: The End Game Begins
By Marie D. Jones

The world is abuzz with talk of the year 2012; however, not everyone is looking forward to the year with the same outlook or expectations. For some, the year hints at apocalyptic end times, a period in which the world will be thrown into utter chaos and violent upheaval. A turbulent and tumultuous epoch in which both natural and man-made disasters will decimate and possibly lead to the extinction of life as we know it.

Other, more optimistic people perceive this date as a moment of awakening, a massive global transformation of consciousness…one which is to be anticipated with joy and celebration.

Perhaps, the real outcome lies somewhere between the two extremes.

The mythology behind the 2012 enigma focuses on the ancient Mayan Long Count Calendar which was a Mesoamerican calendar system that mysteriously ends on December 21, 2012. Interestingly enough, that date also coincides with the winter solstice. This date further corresponds with a predicted “galactic alignment” which is believed to occur when our solar system passes directly through the center of the Milky Way galaxy. Although there is some valid argument for other “end dates” as prescribed by the intricate and sophisticated Mayan calendar, including the alternate end date of October 28, 2011 (as well as an end date of December 23, 2012, rather than December 21), most experts who have studied the Long Count agree that time is coming to an end.

But what kind of an end? In the human mind, the etymology of the word “end” conjures a certain finality – one in which there is no hope.

Thousands of years before our current civilization, did this seemingly simple agrarian society actually predict that life would end altogether, snuffed out in an explosive supernova of disaster upon plague, warfare upon extermination?

Both the Judeo-Christian and Islamic end time scenarios, which are based upon Western fundamentalist Abrahamic thought, do indeed herald a time of literal cleansing. A time when the earth will suffer through the coming of the Four Horsemen bearing gifts of war, famine, plague and death - with the ultimate judgment day not too far behind. Certainly, there is ample evidence in other religious traditions of an ending of one age, as in the Hindu “yugas” or ages that mark a cyclical pattern of both external and internal creation and destruction. This ongoing cycle or “kalpa” also has an end date when, according to Hindu belief, the final avatar will incarnate as Kali and bring about the destruction of all wicked people. Is that likewise an “end?”

Even the oldest creation stories and mythologies tell of a cosmic cycle punctuated by a Big Ending, so to speak, although many native traditions believe that the end, though violent and deadly to be sure, would then be the beginning of a new era of peace, harmony and enlightenment.

The Mayans themselves have suggested that their own end date is really nothing more than the finishing point of a particular age or “underworld,” the one we are living in right now, the Galactic Underworld, and the entry point into the Universal Underworld of both conscious evolution and revolution. There is nothing in Mayan tradition, lore or belief that envisages a scenario in which we will all die and the planet will cease to exist. Rather, the idea is one of amazing and collective rebirth. A period of newfound cosmic awareness, an era in which humanity expands their collective conscious awareness.

Then why all the angst and fear when people speak of 2012? Maybe, the answer is within us. Perhaps it is as simple as basic human psychology. Nobody likes change, especially when it is preceded by great stress, trials, tribulations, and challenges, the likes of which we are already seeing in the years leading up to 2012.

Even if we were to ignore completely the Mayan Long Count Calendar and its Aztec sister version (which speaks of the very same end time transformation) and even if we did not ascribe to the religious traditions that await total human annihilation at the hands of a final battle between the devil and the Christ (don’t worry, the good guys will be raptured, we are told!), there is still ample evidence that the next few years will be rife with chaos, disorder and destruction. Why? Because what we resist persists and often grows, and if there is indeed a wave of spiritual transformation gaining momentum, then coming resistance will be more than enough to make us wonder if we will, indeed, wake up to a brave new world on the first morning of 2013.

As we have seen over the last several years, global power is shifting to the East, with economic turmoil already gripping much of the West in a headlock of plunging home values, rising energy costs, shaky markets, and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. As we approach (if we have not already) peak oil, the quest for easily extracted fuel will exponentially increase­­‑-­even as the population skyrockets in urbanized areas as well as in nations such as China and India which will only serve to further demand while supplies continue dwindling to depletion. Access to potable water threatens to plunge the entire globe into new wars, even as corporations scramble to privatize what little natural resources remain.

Global climate change is destroying indigenous and island lifestyles, and creating chaos all over the world as more nations are forced to deal with brutal drought, while others battle unprecedented flooding. Warm places are getting warmer, Arctic Ice is melting, and the unfortunate people of Tuvalu are watching as their entire island sinks mercilessly into rising ocean waters.

Malaria, a humid-weather disease, is moving into highlands where it never existed before while other diseases threaten to derail any attempts by our most cutting edge pharmaceuticals to fight them. West Nile Virus, SARS, MRSA and avian flu all seem poised to pounce upon nations of people unprepared for pandemics, let alone regional epidemics. And lest you think our public health and emergency preparedness systems will save us, let me remind you of the horrendous failings apparent during Hurricane Katrina.

But don’t despair! The news is not all awful. Science, medicine and technology promise to explode into the stratosphere in the coming years. Computer technology historically follows an established pattern known as “Moore’s Law” which describes an important trend in the history of computer hardware whereby the number of transistors that can be inexpensively placed on an integrated circuits increase exponentially, doubling approximately every two years. Some technologists believe that this increase is steadfastly moving towards a “singularity,” when growth, development and transformation will come together in a climactic head, ushering in a brave new world of artificial intelligence. Before we know it, life itself will seem to be a sci-fi movie!

Quantum computers, bioengineering, human longevity experiments, and nanotechnology stand at the forefront of major advances in the way we live, and even die. With astonishing new genetic research, we may one day see the end of all disease. With the promising new exploration of bionics, we may never need worry about heart or liver failure again, knowing that we can order a new one that combines the best of both computer technology and biology - creating new types of living systems that promise to change not only our quality of life…but our whole culture itself.

Naturally, some may fear the rise of artificial intelligence and the coming singularity due to the (perhaps warranted) concern that humans will be somehow made obsolete – or worse, that we may lose control to the very machinery that we created…machinery that can think faster and more efficiently than we do. Others still wait excitedly for the development of technologies which will make life easier than ever. However, even the promise of an easier life comes with a price. Rising rates of heart disease, cancer and obesity are directly linked with the increasingly sedentary lifestyles of most developed nations. Add to that existing rates of disease in undeveloped nations, and emerging diseases entering and re-entering the fray, and humanity may not be wiped out at all by a big, bold natural disaster or nuclear war.

Alarmingly enough, we may get snuffed out by the tiniest of threats, those packing the biggest punch of all – viruses that invade our bodies. Viruses pose a very real, very significant threat to humankind as our bodies are too weak and stressed to fight back, with pharmaceuticals rendered ineffective from years of overuse.

Surprisingly, the greatest challenges that face humanity and the earth in general, over the next few years are all preventable. With that being said, the biggest mystery is why we are not doing more to prevent them now…while we still can…and when it truly counts. Global climate change is creating a need for new ways of co-existing with the earth. Already, water shortages are threatening to derail peace agreements and further escalate already tense relations between nations into the stratosphere of war. Even the decreasing rates of food production, coupled with over inflated prices and a global market that favors the rich, hint at another coming disaster; the spread of famine into regions never having experienced lack of food before.

So what can we do as individuals, communities, and nations? How does one prepare for 2012? If the world is going to end for good, then obviously no preparation is needed. However, if the Mayans and others were right, and the ending is really more of a beginning, can we indeed prepare at all?

The green movement, focusing on building sustainability now, is a great place to start. We should be doing anything possible to make the coming changes less disruptive and damaging, whether that means conserving, recycling or raising awareness of the carbon “footprints” we each leave…and how we can lessen those footprints. Local communities are already springing up around the concept of contained, sustainable living, with residents pitching in by growing food, sharing water resources, bartering services and even watching out for each other’s children to create a new sense of connectedness and unity. Should this effort spread, we may be able to greatly diminish the potential for death, disaster and disease that our overpopulated, stressed out and soon-to-be tapped out planet is quickly plummeting towards.

Ultimately, the year 2012 may be more about internal transformation rather than external change. Even with increasing numbers of super storms and earthquakes, an asteroid or two coming too close for comfort, the highest sunspot cycle activity in years, global shifts in political and economic power, and a host of other earthbound changes, we may need to concentrate on the internal work to be done first. Spiritual transformation is on the lips of many awaiting 2012. Perhaps by altering our collective consciousness we can change not only our own lives, but our destiny as a people. Wouldn’t it be great to wake up on the first morning of 2013 to a better world than we ever imagined?

The problem is that before we can realize it…we must first have both the insight and the foresight to imagine it.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Joshua P. Warren: Seeker of Satan

Joshua P. Warren is a good friend of mine; he's a Fortean, an author, a film-maker, and a guy who likes to live life to the full and have fun - just like me!

And, right now, he has an excellent new documentary available titled Inside the Church of Satan.

Late last year, I was hanging out at Josh's sinister and dark abode in Asheville, North Carolina, and he quietly asked me if I would be willing to be interviewed for a new documentary he was filming.

Well, actually, I have to confess that Josh's abode isn't sinister and dark at all - I was just trying to set the tone. It's really very pleasant! But I digress.

It was around the witching hour, somewhat appropriately, when Josh told me that the film would be highly controversial in both subject matter and content, and if I didn't want to take part, he'd totally understand.

Well, I'm always up for a bit of controversy! And so I said: "Hell, yes!"

The "Hell" part of my reply to Josh was kind of ironic, as the subject matter of the documentary was to be The Church of Satan - the brainchild of the late Anton LaVey.

Of course, any mention of Satan and Satanic worship inevitably conjures up in the minds of many people stark images of human-sacrifice, dark and disturbing goings-on in sinister and shadowy woods by the light of a full moon, and much more, right?

But precisely how accurate is that imagery?

That, in essence, is the crux of Josh's documentary, which sees our intrepid hero invited into the heart of the Church as he seeks to separate myth from reality.

And Josh does so in a highly entertaining and skillful way, and in a film that is packed with intrigue, adventure, wit, menace and more. And it's full of surprises too: the biggest surprise being that the Church is not at all as it's portrayed by the media, or perceived by much of the general public.

I won't spoil things for those who want to see Josh's film for themselves (and, believe me, you definitely should see it!); but I will say that is without doubt one of the most fascinating on-the-road-style documentaries I have seen in a very long time. And at more than 2-hours in length, it's great value for money, too!

Josh is to be applauded for going where no-one (in the media) has gone before, and for providing a unique insight into a world that few people - outside of the Church itself, of course - have ever experienced.

Riveting, entertaining, excellently-produced and highly informative - and all in equal measures!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Mothman's Photographer II

Last night, I finished reading Andy Colvin's book, The Mothman's Photographer II. This is one of those books that is essential reading for those of you fascinated with Mothman.

Somewhat appropriately, and like the Mothman mystery itself, the book is full of all sorts of twists and turns, dark and disturbing scenarios, contains as many questions as it does answers, and definitely defies convention.

The book basically tells the very personal story of Colvin's interest in, and obsession with, the Mothman; something that began in his childhood in the sixties when he and his friends constructed a "shrine" to the Mothman - and after which strange and bizarre things began happening to Colvin, to his family, and to those around him.

In many ways, Colvin's book is more mind-bending than John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies. But this is a good thing: rather than simply go over old ground, and recount the original story, Colvin describes for us how the Mothman personally affected, manipulated, and possibly guided, his own life experiences, right through to the present day.

And it's written in an appropriately unconventional style too: via interviews, transcripts, personal comments and thoughts, and more.

For those who view Mothman as purely a crypto-zoological puzzle, you'll find yourselves at odds with Colvin, who places the creature in a very different category.

Essentially, Colvin views the Mothman as being akin to the Garuda - the majestic bird-like entity of Buddhist and Hindu mythology. Colvin's view is that the presence of the Mothman at the Point Pleasant, West Virginia bridge-collapse of 1967 (as described in Keel's book) was not in any way sinister.

Rather, Colvin sees the Mothman/Garuda as being basically a benign entity, and one that surfaces from its strange realm of existence at times of peril and strife, and when things are distinctly ill with the world. Part-helper, part-guide, it's inextricably linked with us - but generally for the better, Colvin believes.

But it's also a creature whose presence should not be taken lightly - nor should the fact that the creature's presence at Point Pleasant may have been tied in with a whole host of other activity, including classified government projects in the fields of mind-manipulations and psychotronics, synchronicities, the Men in Black, dark and tragic prophecies, the world of big-business, the military-industrial complex, and much more.

The Mothman's Photographer II is a fantastically strange trip into a world without rules, where just about anything goes, and where convention is thrown out of the window. But it works - and it works very well.

If you read the book, you are likely going to come away with a new view (or, at the very least, a modified view) of Mothman, thanks to a man who had the vision and guts to follow his instinct and present his data, ideas, theories and thoughts to those willing to listen.

And, given the fact that it seems the nature of Colvin's life was almost pre-destined from the day he first immersed himself in the world of the Mothman, perhaps he was meant to write the book. And perhaps we're all meant to read it. If so, Colvin has done us a great service in providing a book that is unique, unusual, riveting reading, and beyond thought-provoking.

Read and prepare to have your mind blown, bent, reorganized and, if you get the message, elevated, too.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

2013: Beginnings or Endings?

Over the last few days I've been reading the new book from Marie D. Jones: 2013: The End of Days or a New Beginning?

And having now completed it, I can tell you that her book is an excellent study of the many and varied controversies concerning the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012.

Is the world going to come to a fiery conclusion on that potentially fateful - and fatal - day? Or will we see a positive transformation that ushers in a whole new Golden Age-type era for Humankind? Or will we see absolutely nothing out of the ordinary happen at all?

These - and many others - are the questions that Marie's book skilfully asks and answers.

So where to begin?

Well, at the beginning, of course!

After a thoughtful and insightful foreword from best-selling author Whitley Strieber (who has written at length himself on the issues of future disasters and cataclysmic events), we are treated to an excellent lesson in history from Marie, who reveals the notable story of the Mayan culture, how the Mayan calendar came into being, and what it was that led to the situation that we now find ourselves in: namely, wondering what the hell might happen in only four-and-a-half-years from now!

And that, of course, is the crux of the book.

Marie leaves no stone unturned as she addresses the issue of what our world, and our civilization, might be like after 2012 rolls over into 2013.

Are we going to see death and destruction on a scale that echoes the Old Testament? Will we experience monstrous earthquakes, floods and environmental disasters that overwhelm us into destruction? Is it possible that there could be some form of religious rapture looming ominously on the horizon, and one that comes to its climax in December 2012?

In asking these questions, Marie also gives us much-welcome data on such characters as Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, and Zecharia Sitchin, and she demonstrates that it's not impossible that the latter days of 2012 and the years that follow could prove to be very bad indeed - if, of course, the whole "End of Days" ideas and beliefs have some merit to them.

But, don't go slashing your wrists just yet!

Marie's book is not one of doom and gloom, and neither is her approach to the subject matter: she stresses in the book that as far as the Mayans are concerned, "Yes, they say, the world will end. But only the world as we know it. The Mayans believed in spiritual transformation and the acceleration of conscious evolution."

In other words, what we perceive to be doomsday might be the equivalent of the caterpillar turning into the butterfly - a positive end, and a fantastic new beginning. Again, Marie details for us the beliefs of the Mayans in this particular area (as well as the similar beliefs of different cultures), life-cycles, world-cycles, and the issue of the so-called "Thirteen Heavens" that are all integral parts of the story.

Marie also discusses a very important matter in the chapter of her book titled Who's Behind the Curtain? Namely: "How much of what happens to us is predestined, as fate, and how much of it is free will or choice?"

For me, this is a very important question, as I feel that very often when it comes to predictions, and those who subscribe to them, there is often a sense of "Why do anything? It's going to happen anyway."

In this same chapter, and on this same aspect of the large 2012/2013 controversy, Marie also delves into the fears that surfaced around the whole Y2K saga, and has much to say that is good food for thought.

And then we get to the real Armageddon issues: if everything goes bad, how is it going to end for us? As far as the planet itself is concerned, might it be due to climate change, pollution, super-storms? How about atmospheric calamities? Or Godzilla-sized volcanoes and earthquakes? The list is both alarming and overflowing.

But what about the Earth's worst infestation, that one thing which has wreaked more havoc and careless death and destruction than just about anything else? What am I talking about? Us, of course! That insanely reckless, Damian-like child known as the Human Race!

Marie's thoughts on this matter make it abundantly clear that we have a potential to do far more damage than Mother Nature: population explosions, increased poverty, the possibility of water (our most valuable commodity) becoming a scarce luxury for future inhabitants of our planet, the very weird and highly ominous die-offs of bees all across the world recently (a tiny creature that is actually an integral part of our society), and energy sources running out might all be factors that hasten along the end.

And, of course, there's the disease angle: viruses, SARS, Bird-Flu, West Nile Virus. Could these, and other emerging health-hazards, lead to our downfall as a species? Possibly.

Marie also looks at such intriguing areas as (a) the potential shifting of power on the world-stage from West to East; (b) the rise of the European Union; (c) China's expanding role in a future world; (d) the current and future state of the Middle East; (d) future-trends in terrorism, and a great deal more.

Health is an important factor in Marie's research too: might advances in technology and medicine allow us to dramatically extend our life-spans? Will we see a merging of man, machine and computers that transforms us for the better?

On the other hand, what about all the gigantic, diabetic, fat people lumbering around from one fast-food place to the next in their motorized carts? Will we see a population doomed by the fact that whole swathes of it can't eat food in sensible portions anymore?

Here in Dallas, Texas I see such gargantuan behemoths all the time - and I see their children, too: 10-year-old kids huffing and puffing because they can't walk half a mile. Why? Because all they do is eat, drink gallons of soda, watch TV, eat, drink gallons of soda, watch TV, etc. And then what? That's right: along comes diabetes, heart-disease, daily insulin injections, and early deaths.

It would be ironic (and, in my slightly warped view, darkly humorous, too) if the age of the burger ushered in the age of the end. But again, maybe there is hope: the book shows that those aforementioned advances in technology and medicine might bring us back from the brink of extinction via the french-fry and the quadruple-cheese fatty-burger. And here we get into some fascinating areas, including matters related to artificial intelligence, robot technology, and artificial life.

And there's another area that offers some hope: namely, the idea that we, collectively as a species, do something to save us and save our world.

This is the crux of Marie's cleverly-titled chapter: Shift Shapers. After reading this chapter, you will realize that there are things that can be done, and that may very well help us. But, as you'll also see, it requires not just physical change: it also requires a radical change in mindset, in the way we think, and with respect to how we view our world - not as something that is our property to arrogantly exploit and plunder. But as something to care for, to nurture, to protect - because if we don't we may not have any sort of future.

As the book draws to a close, you are treated to a series of papers, essays and commentaries from various authors and writers giving their views, opinions and thoughts on what might happen on - and after - December 21, 2012. And those same views, opinions and thoughts are as varied and as intriguing as you might expect.

And there you have it: an in-depth, expertly written study of a subject matter that is quite literally just around the corner. In a few short years, we will know what 2013 has to offer, and if radical change is going to occur a few days before the end of 2012.

Maybe it will be good, maybe it will be bad. Maybe, nothing will happen, aside from the fact that perhaps all of the talk of death and disaster - as the date gets ever closer - will galvanize us to try and prevent the human and planetary disasters that could indeed overwhelm us. Or maybe it's already too late and the countdown to the end has already begun.

Written, refreshingly, by someone with no personal axe to grind - or personal theory to push in our faces - Marie's book lays out for us all the data, the theories, the possible futures that await us, and much more.

2013 is an essential read, and one that is at various times uplifting, disturbing, highly thought-provoking, but never without importance or relevance to anyone and everyone alive today.