‘Phobos: Mayan Fear’
Phobos has been much in the news.
The Phobos-Grunt spacecraft put into orbit Nov. 9 failed to fire the engine designed to take it to Mars, home to the orbit of another Phobos, the largest and closest of the Red Planet’s natural satellites.
But a month before this, in October, “Phobos” had already made headlines — as the title release of the third novel in Steve Alten’s “Domain” trilogy. Following “Domain” (2001) and “Resurrection” (2004), “Phobos: Mayan Fear” (Tom Doherty Associates, $24.99) finishes the Mayan prophecy series that takes readers to the apocalypse and back to give the world one more shot at redemption.
But as for that redemption, Alten said, it isn’t looking good.
In ancient Greek, Phobos is translated as “fear,” an apt term, the novelist writes in his author notes: ‘“Phobos’ scares me: first, because I know the scenario is plausible; and second, because anytime you combine man’s ego with atom splitting of colliding, bad things are apt to happen.”
Bad things do happen in “Phobos” — the body count is large.
Yet good things happen, too — but you’ll have to traverse the plot’s gyrations of time and space to get there. In the novel, hero Immanuel Gabriel journeys with his deceased grandfather to discover that everything the Mayans predicted is on target to come true, yet could be altered — even as Immanuel himself is a genetically altered human.
Add in extraterrestrials (who have crafted the human alterations), the idea that the asteroid that struck Earth 65 million years ago wasn’t an asteroid and the writings of Chilam Balam, the Jaguar Prophecies — and you have a classic Alten roller coaster ride: adventure, smart science fiction and an ending worth the literary equivalent of acid reflux obtained from devouring the author’s nonlinear plot.
But as for that plot, stay with it. You’ll be glad you ate the whole thing.
“Maybe you could clarify that in your article,” Alten said during phone interview from his Florida home. “I was a little concerned if I was going to lose the reader, because in the beginning of the book you are starting in the future. The books starts with Part 2 and then goes back to Part 1. I started with Part 2, because we’re starting with the effect, and then we’re going back in time to what caused the effect, so it’s a little deeper, but it’s more rewarding when the reader gets the ‘aha’ moment — now I get it.”
There’s a lot to get in “Phobos,” especially the science behind the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, located near Geneva, Switzerland, and, even today is being used to discover the origin of our universe — while simultaneously creating strangelets, or miniature black holes as a byproduct and with the potential to destroy the universe it is studying.
“Regarding the Hadron Collider,” Alten said, “we are messing around with something we don’t understand. It’s a stretch to say that everything’s going to be OK. We are creating miniature black holes. You have to understand, when I wrote ‘Domain,’ it was 1998. None of this stuff had gotten anyone’s attention. My story dealt with the asteroid strike that hit Earth 65 million years ago. It really was the key event in the ascension of mammals and human beings.
“In researching that story, I came upon the Mayan prophecy. The story unfolded from the research. Had the Large Hadron Collider been on the horizon at that point, I probably would have written ‘Domain’ about that. The Hadron Collider didn’t come online until 2008. So, from a trilogy standpoint, I guess that’s a good thing.
From a reader standpoint, it’s also a good thing.
In “Phobos,” Alten crafts an important novel, deeper than what fans of his “Meg” books are accustomed to, but no less fascinating from a science and story perspective. That, Alten said, is always the goal.
“Part of the challenge is to take a lot of research and edit it down to digestible bites that fit into the story line,” the author said.
That’s “Phobos.” Bon appetit.