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Review of In the Courts of The Sun

In the Courts of the Sun
By Brian D’Amato
Dutton, 2009

There’s a good reason why Jed DeLanda, the quick-brained and foul-mouthed main character in Brian D’Amato’s fantastic, fast-paced sci-fi epic In the Courts of the Sun, has to ride the brain of his 7th century Mayan host like a sentient kind of encephalitis –- there’s no other way to get there from here:

The sad fact is that time travel is impossible. Into the past, that is. If you want to go faster into the future you can just freeze yourself. But going backward is absolutely, unequivocally, and forever unworkable, for a number of well-known reasons. One is the grandfather paradox, meaning you could always go back in time and kill your grandfather, and then you’d presumably never have existed in the fist place. Another is that even if you went back and did nothing, you’d almost certainly have some of the same molecules your younger self had been using incorporated into your body. And so the same molecule would be in two different places at once. And that can’t happen. The third reason is just a mechanical problem. The only way into the past that anyone knows of is the famous wormhole route, through a naked singularity. But putting matter through a singularity is like putting a Meissen vase through a pasta machine. Anything going through it is going to com out the other end crushed and scrambled and no good for anything.

The trick here isn’t how to send the data but where to send it, as DeLanda explains early in the book. “Of course, the next problem is that there has to be a receiver and storage on the other end. And in the era we were interested in, there weren’t any radar dishes or disk drives or silicon chips or IF antennas or even a crystal radio. Circa 664 there was only one existing object that could receive and store that much information. A brain.”

The reason for the interest? DeLanda and his colleagues are concerned about the Maya calendar’s prophecy that the world will end in 2012 (if you haven’t yet heard of this little tidbit, don’t worry – you will, until you’re well and truly sick of it; in sheer annoyance factor, it’s going to make Y2K look like a funny little YouTube viral video); DeLanda hopes that his own Mayan ancestry will give him some special insight into literally saving the world. There’s a straightforward adventure-story unfolding in In the Courts of the Sun (the first volume in a projected trilogy), but D’Amato’s caffeinated prose and sharp eye always provide a little more, as when DeLanda deals with the social delicacies of his racial heritage:

“You don’t look Asian. Or Latin American.” She smiled to give it all a flirty spin like she was afraid of seeming racist. But it was true, I don’t really look like much of anything. The Maya tend to be short’ n ‘ chunky, but I was half Ladino, and because of all the calcium I’d gotten in Utah – atypically, I wasn’t lactose–intolerant, and I’d landed on a planet where milk is practically the only approved beverage -– I’d shot up to a towering five nine, more than a head taller than anyone else in my original family. Currently I was around 135 pounds, so I couldn’t really shop in the Husky Department, and that seemed to have thinned my face out. A real Maya usually has a wide face that looks like a hawk from the side and an owl from the front. But I just look vaguely tropical. Sometimes, when people hear my last name, they ask if I’m from the Philippines. Sylvana, that is, my sort of ex, used to say that my long hair made me look like a bad-looking version of Keanu Reeves in Little Buddha. I thought about saying all this to Marena and then decided to chill. Have a little mystery, for God’s sake.

There’s plenty of mystery on hand in D’Amato’s book, and lots of thrills (needless to say, the non-time travel time-travel goes awry almost from the first moment), and a very gratifying number of laughs per page –- and best of all, a hugely satisfying amount of modern and fascinating information about the Maya, how they lived and thought. DeLanda could easily write the world’s most engrossing textbook on the subject.

But not just now! Like most readers of In the Courts of the Sun, I suspect, I want to know how this particular story ends first.