Rameau’s review archive: Mayojen testamentti (Domain, The Domain trilogy 01) by Steve Alten


For 32 years, archaeologist Julius Gabriel has investigated the Mayan calendar, a 2500-year-old enigma that predicts the end of humanity. Julius believes the sites of the ancients, placed all around the globe, represent ancient pieces of a puzzle linked to the salvation of our species.

Miami, September 2012: Psychology Dominique Vazquez is assigned a special patient-Mick Gabriel, a paranoid schizophrenic with a high IQ who attempts to charm her into believing his father’s theories of the Apocalypse so he can escape.

Fall Equinox: As it has done for a thousand years, a serpent’s shadow appears on the northern balustrade of the Kukulcan Pyramid . . . a rare galactic alignment occurs, and a space transmission reaches Earth.

It is the beginning of the end . . .

Mayojen testamenttiMayojen testamentti by Steve Alten

Well, wasn’t that a disappointment.
Some time ago–probably a year or two back–I saw a paperback copy of this book in the bookshop. I glanced at the blurb and thought interesting, but put it back and decided to look it up in the library. Aren’t I glad I did.

It wasn’t the sketchy science that I found unpalatable. I’m too lazy to look up the real numbers but I can smell circular mathematical reasoning when I stumble on it. By nature I’m an easy sell. Just put some effort into the storytelling, make sure your basic facts are straight, and I’ll suspend disbelief long enough to breeze through the book and won’t notice a thing. Of course once someone else points out the failures I’ll happily join in on the lambasting.

And by put some effort into the storytelling I mean, have the characters act like the rational, slightly cynical but impossibly curious scientists they’re supposed to be. I’ve seen actual physicists act like children at the face of some new exiting data–I felt it–and I wasn’t even in position to understand what was so damn intoxicating about it.

Dominique did not in any way fit the mould. Usually that would be a good thing to say about a character, but not when she’s supposed to be an abuse survivor dealing with her past by becoming a clinical psychologist. I could have understood a moment or two of weakness at the face of an emotional dilemma, but I could not tolerate her bawling at every single turn. Psychology is different from physics or archeology, but she’s gone through the school and the moves. Unless she’s bought every single test and article she’s written for her professors, her first plan of attack towards Mick’s hallucinations would be to verify the facts from independent sources. She did not. Any academic should know better and that the author would brush it aside so makes me doubt his qualifications.

Then again, I know nothing about sport medicine.

But I do know a thing or two about story telling.

The mixing of first and third person limited narratives didn’t work. Having finished the book I can appreciate what the author was trying to do with Julius’ journal entries, but it did not work. The beginning was too slow and bogged down by the numerology-would-be-archeology and choosing Dominique as the main character from whose point of view to introduce the alternative world, did not work. Failures in her characterisation prevented me from connecting with the story. Once the focus was shifted to Mick and the actual thriller part was embraced, I could see why people could–some would–like this very much.

I’ve already mentioned characterisation failures, but I’ve said nothing about the villains. Borgia is the most interesting character of the lot and he has some kind of background to justify his actions. However Foletta, Raymond, Groznyi, and every other nameless halfwit doesn’t. I’ve only taken few basic courses but reading about these characters made me sincerely wish that Alten would invest in a few psychology course books help him write human beings and how they interact with others. Then again, if my guess about the sequel is correct, he didn’t need to. Not that I’m in a hurry to find out.

The fact that this book was written over a decade ago shows. With some things Alten gets very close to today’s technology but other things made me shake my head. As always the human factor distances his view of status quo from the reality. People die, people cheat, people get elected to office.

Also, I’m not convinced by his chosen method of intimidation. Somehow failing economy and the possibilities it creates with new world order(s) seems scarier than a nuclear holocaust. After all, I doubt I’d have to live through the latter considering my geographical location so close to St. Petersburg.

One last note. This was the last book I expected to read a bad romance in. I have read enough actual romances for that, I don’t need it in my science fiction.

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10 Responses to Rameau’s review archive: Mayojen testamentti (Domain, The Domain trilogy 01) by Steve Alten

  1. Damn. What a waste of perfect blurb and a quite nice premise. I hate it when the authors try to dabble in psychology without even knowing the theoretical basics.

    • Melfka says:

      Wow. Makes me feel better about doing a lot of research just to fake I have knowledge in a particular field. Did you know Mayans were lactose intolerant? Well, I know now. I also know which wood is the best for wood carving and probably a lot of other things that are completely useless to me.
      And in reading, just like Rameau, if the basic facts are right, I don’t care about that in reality Spring 1483 was rainy, and not sunny, when the story makes up for the lack of scientific accuracy.

      • rameau says:

        I did not know that, but I know it now. And because I know, I can always go and find out more. Just in case I need to shred another book in a review.

      • If you do your research you don’t fake anything, not really. I never expect a fiction writer to be also a professional shrink or an engineer or anything at all. Such expectations would be completely unreasonable and exaggerated. Analogously nobody expects a translator, even with technical specialization, to have a scientific degree. As long as they do their homework and keep the text more or less correct everything is fine.

    • rameau says:

      Right! Psychology was an optional subject but I took all the courses offered and even passed. Of course I’ve forgotten everything now but that’s why writers do—or should do—research.

      • Exactly. Nobody said creating believable, real-life characters is easy but nobody forces you to be an author you cannot manage it. Dan Brown, I am looking at you.

  2. carolerae20 says:

    Meh. Not at all my genre to begin with.

    • rameau says:

      You can’t just say something like that and expect me not to get curious or take it as a challenge.

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