Saturday, December 31, 2016

"A is for Armageddon": do you feel lucky, punk?

The end is nigh -- the happiest time of the year!
Or so the holiday bookends of December 25 and January 1 are merchandized, pitched, advertised, and wrung (both "-out," after the Christmas wrapping is thrown away, and by New Years, with our party hats askew, back "-in"). What better time to think about the end of days? Humans have thrilled and terrified themselves fantasizing about an event which few of them will ever be unlucky enough to see, although mankind threatens every so often to come tantalizingly close: war, plague, fear, disease, an untested new President, and sheer human nature are capable of capsizing even the warmest holiday thought of good will toward men.
And then there's the ever-threatening volatility of nature itself: the butterfly sneeze in the forest that leads to ultimate planetary destruction. It's a wonder that most of us don't spend the next few days trembling in bed with the covers pulled securely above our heads. As the great philosopher Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry Callahan once phrased our eternal, daily doubts about the human dilemma, do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?
A is for Armageddon: An Illustrated Catalogue of Disasters That May Culminate in the End of the World As We Know It (Harper Books), now released in paperback, is a funny, nervous laugh at the end of days -- whenever and however it should occur. The eternal, open-ended speculation on ultimate doom-and-gloom, as both religious and secular soothsayers have always emphasized, is a game with a singular escape clause: it will happen to someone else before it ever happens to us....that is, if we heed the warning signs.
The book and its accompanying website, a "veritable panoply of impending doom," is a needed tonic to the never-ending round of mall-shopping and enforced jollity of the holiday season. Of course it's a cynic's cornucopia of unknowably bad things that will happen to good people -- and unsuspecting too -- which provides the chill. Those unlucky folks will not be us, likely, so pour yourself another bubbly and put a new log on the fire.

Part of a colorful periodic table of man's possible Doom

The author Richard Horne is an equal-opportunity doomsayer: Divine wrath is here (as expected) but one ought to be wary of animal flatulence as well. There are untold ways The End might arrive, and no matter how we prepare and contemplate ultimate Doom, it will still catch us off our guard; for those who like to quantify and identify such unknowables Horne provides a handy periodic table of possibilities. In any event, how can a reader know if it's the beginning of the end? The fully-interactive website offers the nervous and worried a glass-half-empty measure of your own Doom-monger status.
Horne is a kind of one-man-disaster band, fixated more on endings than beginnings. He's responsible as well for the list-making success of 101 Things to Do Before You Die. So it's expected that the ultimate end of the inexplicable, irrational human race is presented in all of its widescreen Technicolor glory: the end of the end, so to speak.
And if Horne is even half-right it will be a party with a real bang. At this annual festival season of self-congratulation -- we've made it through another year! -- there's always the realization that January bills are yet to come. Or as one wag put it, we should get down upon our knees and all be grateful that we're still on our feet.
May the new year bring you all of what you really need, and most of what you really want! (Armageddon optional.)

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