Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A new book plays a serious game about the end of the world

My mother-in-law filled her bathtub with water and laid in all sorts of canned goods -- just in case -- as Y2K approached. I fell asleep in front of the TV as usual. Y2K didn't faze me a bit.

But I will admit to a little shiver of fear every time I think about the end of the Mayan calendar. For some reason the Mayans chose to end their calendar -- predicting the end of time? -- on December 21, 2012. The date is just random enough, and just close enough, to be a little unsettling.

This is where Brian D'Amato comes in.

Mr. D'Amato's biography advises that he published his first novel, Dreamland, in 1992. Since then Mr. D'Amato has written a brooding, introspective Serious Novel about the clash and incompatibility of cultures; a monograph on game theory; a scholarly treatise on the customs, practices and ornamentation of the Mayans and other Mesoamerican cultures in the 7th century of the Common Era; an historical novel about Mexico and Central America in the same period; and a gripping, sci-fi tinged techno-thriller.

To acquire this extensive library, you need only buy Mr. D'Amato's new book, In the Courts of the Sun, to be published tomorrow by Dutton. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the multitude of its component parts, In the Courts of the Sun is the first volume of a planned trilogy.

And, oh yes, Mr. D'Amato also supplies the Mayan-themed artwork for the book. Wikipedia tells us that D'Amato has taught art and art history at City University of New York, the Ohio State University, and Yale.

In Mr. D'Amato's book, December 21, 2012 really is the day on which the world will end -- but not if a team of well-funded scientists, engineers and game theorists can change the course of history.

A calendrical savant, Jed DeLanda, becomes part of this team after he correctly interprets a pre-2012 disaster prophecy in a newly discovered Mayan codex. DeLanda is Mayan, as attuned to the suppressed culture of his ancestors as he can be. He also has a talent for playing a game, a game that he learned from his mother, that has helped him amass a small fortune in corn futures. That same game may also prevent the end of the world.

In the Courts of the Sun is a sprawling work; Mr. D'Amato says he spent "fifteen-plus years" of research putting it together -- and it shows. It is not an "airport book" -- you'll need (and I think you may want) to spend more time with this novel.

I was particularly taken in by the astounding detail concerning the life of the Mayans and other Mesoamerican peoples. I asked the book's publicist about the authenticity of these descriptions and I received an email back from Mr. D'Amato. "Where there are disagreements among scholars," D'Amato wrote, "I've tried to make all the research in the book 'According to Pru' -- that is, according to the Mayanist Prudence Rice, at the University of Illinois, who is vetting the books and who has also provided some important corrections and even some ideas for dialogue."

I don't want to make In the Courts of the Sun sound like a history textbook. It most certainly is not. It is a tale told from the points of view of Jed DeLanda (and, no, I won't explain that and, no, "points" is not a typo) and Mr. DeLanda, for all his brilliance, has some very serious issues. He is often crude and irreverent, even blasphemous. If hostility to religion spoils science fiction or techno-thrillers for you, you'll have problems here. I read science fiction constantly. I'm used to the attitude and I'm not threatened by it.

That said, I found myself disappointed when I realized that the entire story would not be told in just this one book -- and that's a high compliment: I want to know how it all ends. (Or, you know, if it all ends.) The second installment of the trilogy is due next year. One hopes the third installment will be published sufficiently prior to December 21, 2012.

Just in case.

A footnote, by way of providing local color: Brian D'Amato is the son of Anthony D'Amato, the Judd and Mary Morris Leighton Professor of Law at Chicago's Northwestern University School of Law.


Cristina said...

This sounds perfect for my husband and I need a birthday resent so, THANKS!

Shel said...

Sounds good. I read everything I get my hands on, though pure sci-fi is a little out of my usual sphere. This sounds intriguing enough to at least give it a try.

Kacey said...

Science fiction is fun, but I have been reading several authors concerning Biblical Prophecy of the end times. So many things seem to be coming true and all I can say certainly is an interesting time in which to be living.
I come over here when I have enough time to read several posts. You are wonderfully wordy and I absolutely love words. Keep writing, Curmy, your audience loves you.

Empress Bee (of the high sea) said...

well since i didn't know anything about this i now have something new to worry about. i'd better mark my calendar. yikes!

smiles, bee