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Summer heat or apocalypse? Three books offer answers.

September 3, 2009 |  2:32 pm


Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
            -- Robert Frost

Frost, it seems, lacked imagination. Apocalypse comes in more flavors than strawberry and vanilla. Three new books explore alternative scenarios for the Final Fandango, the Last Call at the Cosmic Bar, the bang (or the whimper) that will end Life as We Know It, or at least change things beyond recognition. The only question is: Which should we put our money on? Will it be ...


No, not the slimy, web-toed plague that rained down on Pharaoh’s Egypt, but the amphibians that are disappearing today all over the world. In "Extinction in Our Times" (Oxford University Press), biologists James P. Collins and Martha L. Crump of Arizona State University point out that a frog can be like a canary. Put a yellow bird down a mine shaft, and it will die if the air isn’t fit to breathe. Now that frogs are vanishing, for obscure reasons, from North Africa to the Sierra Nevada, it’s hard not to conclude that the environment is out of whack. Says Collins: "We have not a moment to lose."


Globally speaking, we’ve maxed out our credit cards, trashed the hotel room and eaten and drunk way too much, and now the party’s over, says Dianne Dumanoski in "The End of the Long Summer" (Crown). We face a future of volatile climate change, scarcity and uncertainty. With courage and clear thinking, we can survive, Dumanoski says. We survived the Ice Age, after all. But we’ll have to create "institutions designed for flexibility and redundancy rather than profit and efficiency," and pull up our socks.


The Y2K scare is long gone, but the Mayan/Aztec prophecy racket still has three years to run. Gary Jennings’ "Apocalypse 2012: A Novel" (Forge) is a fleshing-out by Robert Gleason and Junius Podrug of notes left by novelist Jennings, who died in 1999. Bad god Tezlatlipoca usurps the throne of good god Quetzalcoatl. The fabled city of Sula succumbs to a heart-ripping, blood-drinking cult. (See Mel Gibson, "Apocalypto.") A thousand years later, scientists race to decipher the End-Time Codex before an even worse fate befalls our civilization. Failure seems likely. Says the president of the United States: "May God have mercy on our souls."

Take your pick.

-- Michael Harris

Photo credit: July 2009 solar eclipse; AFP/Getty Images