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Death by Water

Novel 12 Tells of the Coming Floods


Thursday, December 20, 2012

If you’ve wondered in what manner the world is going to end on December 21, 2012, author Jeff Oshins has an answer for you: flooding. In his novel 12: A Novel About the End of the Mayan Calendar, Oshins describes the prophesied time when the celestial and temporal realms touch, allowing the ancient gods to enter the physical plane where they go to war over who will dominate the next age of Earth. The fire gods have been ruling the roost recently, but the water gods think it is time for a change.

The reader wants to root for the water gods — partly because they represent the flowing ways of indigenous culture before the fiery Europeans came along, bringing guns and the industrial revolution. The other reason we like them is the novel’s protagonist, the frog-god Tatya Masi, whose birth heralds the coming of the age of water.

Tatya Masi is a very reluctant — whiny and cowardly, in fact — messiah in the form of a teenaged amphibian with bad hair. His superpower is empathy, which allows him to assume virtually any form. On the other hand, our hero’s prescribed role is to perform the deed that will usher in the unceasing rains that will flood the age of man into oblivion. (Hey, wait a minute, that’s us!) The only survivors will be the La’ku, a small Latin American Indian tribe whose mythologies and calendar closely parallel those of the better-known Mayas.

It gets complicated. No one is wholly good or bad. Not only do loving friends and family members turn out to be foes in the spiritual realm — and vice versa — but even gods on the same side have different agendas. For example, the beautiful and manipulative fire spirit Quetzal (currently forced to operate in the body of a 9-year-old boy who happened to get lost in the damp cave where Quetzal has been imprisoned by a water god’s curse for what seems like forever) cannot be freed except by the very deed that will bring on the age of water. But Quetzal’s natural allies, the other fire spirits, and their vicious minions are trying to kill our hero before that happens, to prevent the deluge.

The novel 12 is filled with magic, fantastic visions, invented words, chase scenes through mountain lakes in the Sierras and school campuses in the American Midwest, and even music: A CD by Oshin’s band Apokaful, which is also the name of the band playing at a nightclub in the novel, can be ordered separately. (Apokaful is an adjective describing someone who is preoccupied with thoughts of the end of the world.)

In case you’re thinking it’s too late for this book, because doom is already upon us, the end of the world in Oshins’s rich fantasy is not a sudden and definitive cataclysm. In fact, the sequel to 12, titled And We Shall Perish, is already available.

Billy Collins & Aimee Mann

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