Writing is a tricky business, but a business it is—gotta pay the rent and have beer money, you know—and like any other business venture, you have to produce something that people want. It’s simple economics—supply and demand. When the end of the world looms large, the demand for thrillers that explore the topic goes up…and when the conspicuous date passes by with neither a bang nor a whimper, the demand evaporates.
Toward the end of the 1990’s, a slew of thrillers explored all the ways the world would fall apart with the turn of the millennium. But Y2K came and went with barely a burble, and one year later, the third millennium officially kicked off, Armageddon-free. All the unsold copies of those hastily penned novels went to the remainders bin or more probably, into the recycling hopper, and thriller writers began to focus on the next big thing—December 21, 2012, the end of the Mayan calendar.
Y2K notwithstanding, the millennium was never a very compelling theme for a thriller for the simple reason that our calendar system is completely arbitrary. The way we count the years was established several centuries ago based on a best guess of when Jesus Christ was born (the exact date for the event is disputed even among those who accept it as historic fact). Our calendar isn’t even universal, a fact we’re reminded of with every Chinese New Year celebration. The Mayan apocalypse had a bit more gravitas than the turn of the millennium for the simple reason that it was based on something tangible—the winter solstice. Factor in that the date coincides with a planetary alignment, and you’ve got the basis for a pretty tidy thriller scenario.
Or at least you do, right up until December 22.
Most of us probably didn’t really think the world was going to end last Friday (though surveys indicate that a sizable chunk of our population does in fact believe THE END is coming, and sooner rather than later). But just like the day after any much-anticipated event—be it Christmas or the Super Bowl—people have probably had their fill of doomsday, particularly when served up with a Meso-American flavor. This is unfortunate because some of those apocalyptic thrillers are very well written and thoroughly plumb the depths of Mayan history and mythology, which remains a very interesting subject. They deserve better than to be put away in permanent storage.
Graham Brown’s 2010 thriller Black Sun is just such a novel. Black Sun is the second book in Brown’s Hawker/Laidlaw series. The story follows up on the discoveries of the first book—Black Rain—so it might be proper to consider the two novels as a single apocalyptic thriller, but Black Sun is the book that most directly connects with 2012. In fact, most of the action in the story takes place…last week, actually.
The novel follows the exploits of a government agency called the National Research Institute, described as “a science based version of the CIA.” The chief protagonist of the series, Danielle Laidlaw, is an NRI field operative who has just returned to the fold after a hiatus following the events described in Black Rain. Danielle is back in action because her colleague and fellow Black Rain survivor Prof. McCarter has learned that the unusual crystal the NRI team found in a forgotten Mayan city in the Amazon Basin, and three more undiscovered stones just like it, are all building toward a cataclysmic burst of radiation, which will occur on…you guessed it… December 21, 2012.
Danielle and McCarter are in Mexico searching for the stones, hoping to avert catastrophe, when they are attacked by men working for a Chinese billionaire; Danielle is taken hostage and McCarter is left for dead. Unable to rescue his operative through normal channels, NRI director Arnold Moore enlists Hawker—the renegade CIA agent who formerly accompanied Danielle’s team into the Amazon—to do whatever it takes to rescue her. I won’t reveal any more except to say that what follows is a perfectly executed blend of action, intrigue, science and mysticism, which among other things, answers the question that we’re all asking today: Why didn’t the world end last Friday? (Hint: Not because the Mayan Prophecy was wrong).
In all seriousness though, Black Sun should not be dismissed as a novel about the apocalypse that wasn’t. Sadly, that’s the way it was marketed, especially for readers in the UK, where Black Rain was titled The Mayan Conspiracy, and Black Sun was released as Doomsday.
If you strip away the potentially negative “cry wolf” associations with December 21, you’ve got exactly the kind of book most of us are looking for: a thriller with historical content, where the bad guys are very bad, but the good guys always save the day. As Graham put it when I asked him for his thoughts on this subject: “Even with James Bond or Indiana Jones or Dirk Pitt, you expect them to win in the end. The question is how, and is it believable. It’s not really the end that matters. It’s more the journey.”
That journey is exactly what Graham Brown delivers in this series—Black Rain, Black Sun, and the latest offering, The Eden Prophecy.
Since 2011, Graham has been working with Clive Cussler on The NUMA Files series—their third collaboration Zero Hour will be out in May 2013—but he promises that we will see more of Danielle and Hawker in the days to come.
Visit Graham Brown on the web: grahambrownthrillers.com