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Book Cover Image: 12.21 by Dustin ThomasonTitle: 12.21
Author: Dustin Thomason
ISBN: 9780385341400
No. of Pages: 273
Genre: Thriller, Science Fiction

“For decades, December 21, 2012, has been a touchstone for doomsayers worldwide. It is the date, they claim, when the ancient Maya calendar predicts the world will end.

In Los Angeles, two weeks before, all is calm. Dr. Gabriel Stanton takes his usual morning bike ride, drops off the dog with his ex-wife, and heads to the lab where he studies incurable prion diseases for the CDC. His first phone call is from a hospital resident who has an urgent case she thinks he needs to see. Meanwhile, Chel Manu, a Guatemalan American researcher at the Getty Museum, is interrupted by a desperate, unwelcome visitor from the black market antiquities trade who thrusts a duffel bag into her hands.

By the end of the day, Stanton, the foremost expert on some of the rarest infections in the world, is grappling with a patient whose every symptom confounds and terrifies him. And Chel, the brightest young star in the field of Maya studies, has possession of an illegal artifact that has miraculously survived the centuries intact: a priceless codex from a lost city of her ancestors. This extraordinary record, written in secret by a royal scribe, seems to hold the answer to her life’s work and to one of history’s great riddles: why the Maya kingdoms vanished overnight. Suddenly it seems that our own civilization might suffer this same fate.

With only days remaining until December 21, 2012, Stanton and Chel must join forces before time runs out.”

Thoughts: Fears about December 12, 2012 are almost as long-standing as fears about Y2K were. In 12.21  Dustin Thomason uses these fears to create a medical thriller that does much to highlight just how much is unknown about the Mayan civilization and draw attention to a familiar but relatively unknown series of diseases. Dr. Stanton and Chel Manu, as the foremost experts in their respective fields, must combine their wits and their knowledge to defeat this unknown and extremely dangerous illness and to save the world.

All novels heavily based in science have some aspect of a scientific lecture among their pages. It is the nature of the beast as the author attempts to explain the science while keeping it appropriate to the story. The successful authors blend science with fiction seamlessly, allowing readers to understand the mechanics and basic tenets at the same time the story continues to unfold. Unfortunately, Mr. Thomason is not successful. Many a scene in the novel reads like classroom lecture notes as Stanton or Chel take the time to expound upon their respective fields to the other. Even though a reader understands the need to learn the subject matter for the viability of the story, every time this occurs the story grinds to a halt and only moves forward again once either character is finished with their knowledge discourse. It makes for a very jagged story, as the plot swings from moving too quickly to be believable to not moving forward at all.

Chel and Stanton are both the archetypal experts without the added benefit of a sense of individualism to set them apart from the myriad other scientists in the genre. Both are workaholics who sacrifice individual relationships for the purpose of knowledge. Both are abrupt, passionate, and determined to protect their corners of the world, or the lab. Both come with some hefty luggage that comes into play as the story unfolds. Both are willing to move heaven and earth and even sacrifice themselves to solve the puzzle. They are reminiscent of Jasper Fforde’s clones, easily replaceable and not very memorable, which is an unfortunate trait in main characters.

Inopportunely, the announcement by scholars that the Mayan calendar really does continue after December 21, 2012 does much to lessen the tension and mystery of the novel. It is difficult to take a story seriously when one knows that an ancient culture really did not predict the end of the world. That being said, Mr. Thomason does much to argue the idea of vegetarianism, as a reader might not look at meat in quite the same way after reading about prion diseases in such detail. Unfortunately, none of the fascinating medical science can prevent 12.21 from being utterly predictable. The hints about the mysterious disease are heavy-handed and frequent, providing a proverbial flashing neon sign as to the answers to the mystery. The story itself resolves too perfectly with none of the messiness that would make the story even remotely realistic. Without compelling main characters, better pacing, and less predictability, 12.21 is merely an adequate medical thriller that tries to capitalize on what was one of the hottest theories/suppositions/fears out there these days but is doomed before its release date to be little more than a joke among the majority of the population.

Acknowledgments: Thank you to NetGalley and to Random House for my e-galley!

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