BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After most of humanity slips into a coma, two factions fight over the future of mankind.
PROS: Engrossing; fast-paced; intriguing premise; uses real-life Mayan Prophecy.
CONS: Signs of First Novel Syndrome.
BOTTOM LINE: An engaging scientific/supernatural thriller.
The opening scene of Larry Ketchersid’s Dusk Before the Dawn introduces the reader to the Mayan civilization. The ancient Mayans exhibited a profound knowledge of astronomy. They created a cyclical calendar that showed the rise and fall of societies and which eerily predicted events that have since come to pass. (Insert Twilight Zone music here.) The Mayan calendar ends in the year 2012 – December 21st, to be exact, so note that fast-approaching date. Some believe this to be their prediction of when the world will come to an end.
In Dusk Before the Dawn, the end of the world isn’t here, but it’s pretty darned close. Most of the population has mysteriously dropped into a sleep-like state except for a select few. Among others, there’s Janet Grayson, a nanotech scientist who awakens to find herself a captive of her former colleague, Dr. Gerard Tooney; Joseph Davis, a medical technician and father whose family remains affected by the mysterious illness; and Julius (Julian) Rodriguez, an American-educated Mayan who was expecting, and prepared for, the global catastrophe. But just what was it that knocked out most of Earth’s population?
The true nature of the catastrophe is not revealed before the first third of the book. Until then, great tension is built up as we see the survivors fall into two camps. One is led by Tooney, who uses the current situation as a way to further his megalomaniacal tendencies. As the misunderstood villain, Gerard Tooney would fit perfectly in a 70’s James Bond movie. The other camp is led by Julian, who uses drugs stolen from Tooney to “resume” people from their unexpected slumber. Both men use the resumed to effectively create armies that they will use to decide the fate of the post-apocalyptic world.
The character of Julian gives the author a chance bounce the premise against the backdrop of the real-life Mayan Prophecy. I got the same pleasure out of this as I did when reading Bill DeSmedt’s Singularity, which was based on the Tunguska Event. Any work of fiction that sparks an interest in real-life history, the most feared of all school subjects, makes it that much more interesting. (In a bit of destiny that could never have been predicted, a documentary about the Mayan Prophecy aired on the History Channel while I was in the middle of the book. Sweet!)
Ketchersid blends several interesting elements into his carefully constructed plot: nanotech, environmentalism, a megalomaniacal genius, betrayal and intrigue, apocalyptic fiction (see an excerpt for a good example of this) and mysticism. The mysticism comes in the form of internal Qi energy which some of the characters use to accomplish supernatural feats. This part was somewhat far-fetched, but it did provide a good mechanism for the author to play out the theme of destiny vs. free will. And while the plot construction and pacing shows great skill, the signs of this being a first novel do not go entirely unnoticed. It could have used a bit more editing, as evidenced by a small handful of distracting grammatical mistakes.
But as first novels go, this one was pretty darned good and shows excellent promise. Ultimately the story is an engaging scientific/supernatural thriller. As the title of the book suggests, this is a new dawn of mankind. There is a sequel in the works and I’m interested to see what the new day looks like.