The Dial Press
When I first picked up 12.21, I expected another silly novel about the upcoming “end of the world” centering on the Mayan long count calendar. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised with a page-turner of a story that combines science and myth with fast-paced mystery. Yes, it does involve that enigmatic date of 12-21-2012, but author Dustin Thomason creates a very believable scenario involving a rare infectious disease outbreak and the quest to decipher a new codex with intriguing insight into the Mayan culture.
The story centers on a handful of characters involved with an outbreak of a deadly disease involving prions, tiny proteins associated with mad cow disease, that has the potential for a catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions if spread to humans and not contained. At the center of the chaos stands Dr. Gabe Stanton, a top dog at the Centers for Disease Control, and a lovely Guatemalan-American researcher named Chel Manu, who is given an illegal Mayan artifact to decipher that may be linked to the growing prion pandemic.
The race against the clock begins as Stanton, Chel and their colleagues attempt to understand the meaning of the artifact’s text and glyphs as well as the origin point of the prion disease in attempt to discover an antidote or cure. Throughout, the author (who also wrote the well-reviewed Rule of Four) peppers real science and Mayan history so that the reader gets a dose of fact with the fiction, something more novelists are doing these days. It’s a fascinating and entertaining way in my book to present facts within the format of a fictional story, although it’s up to the reader to keep it all straight in the end.
The author has an M.D. from Columbia University and knows his way around medical jargon, giving the book an even deeper feel of authenticity. But ultimately it’s the breathless pace of the story and the mystical backdrop of the Mayan culture that draws us in and keeps us wondering... What really WILL happen on 12-21-2012?