Sunday, July 20, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure #11: Mystery of the Maya

After yet another lukewarm space adventure, complete with a heavy-handed "violence is always wrong, pacifism would somehow have defeated Hitler" moral, I'm glad to be back near the start of the series and safely on Planet Earth, all its flaws and too-heavy gravity notwithstanding. This time the aliens will come to us, building a lost civilization and then for some reason kicking the plug out of the wall.

Sadly, we've long passed the point of "Peak Maya" so this does put a bit of a damper on the proceedings. A few years ago they were definitely the "in" ancient civilization, easily displacing the massive Assyria fad that had dominated the nineties. Then it was discovered that the apocalyptic predictions of their amazing ancient calendar weren't any more reliable than some modern day American crank. Ever since that disappointing day when the world failed to end they've fallen back into that second tier of lost civilizations.

Another classic "montage of crazy stuff" cover.

I'm a writer assigned by my New York editor to go find out what happened to the Mayan civilization. It makes sense. When you need the solution to a practical problem and everyone who is actually qualified has failed, you send in an author, preferably a fiction one. This is why that guy who wrote that series of books where Marky-Mark is a secret agent with amnesia or whatever became our national military adviser after Nine Eleven.

Mayan history is laid out in efficient prose, covering their rise and fall in about three paragraphs. We're here for the choices not a dull lecture, after all. I arrive in the Yucatan and am greeted by Manuel, who I immediately and quite arbitrarily decide must be a descendent of the fallen empire I'm searching for. I mean, sure, why not? Add in a few flowery descriptions, assign both credit and blame to space men and I should have the next sure-fire best seller.

Is such a thing even possible? 

I get an offer to see some professor-type, but hard won experience has taught that this is a bad idea. Instead I want to go right to the "ruins" where I'll use my author superpowers to notice hidden details that were missed by thousands of trained archeologists. I get a choice between Chichen Itza and Uxmal and decide to go with Uxmal in much the same way I'd skip the Pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt and instead try to find some of the charred remains of the Library of Alexandria out in the desert somewhere. You've got to off-road to get the big scoops, obviously.

Despite picking the less trendy spot, there's "crowds of people" and I "wish I was alone." Yeah, tell me about it. I decide to check out something called the "Temple of Magicians," but get blocked by the crowd of gawking ugly Americans, camera-permanently-strapped-to-head Japanese and whatever negative stereotype that I'm not familiar with is applied to European tourists. While being frustrated by this crush of Temple aficionados an old man offers to take my to a "very deep water hole." You don't say no to that kind of offer.

   The new cover, completed with "rapper pose." Let me drop some lost civilization on you, sucker!

I follow the old man into the jungle, but instead of a totally righteous cistern I'm surrounded by armed criminals, having fallen for the old "Have a harmless senior citizen promise a well of some sort" ploy that every travel guide warns you about. They take my money and then strap me to a donkey. I'm going to be held for ransom. I wonder if my friends and family will be able to raise the needed funds and the story ends right there. Yet another forgotten victim of trusting the elderly and being way too into the idea of extracting water from the earth.

The ending was abrupt and I didn't really get to do anything, but overall this one seemed to hold a lot of promise. The writing is actually pretty solid, there's a nice exotic setting and a goal to aim for. By R.A. Montgomery standards this is in the top 10%, easily. Too bad I promptly blundered into a rejected torture pornography script. 

The normal aging process gets you. The End.

Check Out My Books!

Aaron Zehner is the author of "Posts from the Underground," now available in paperback and e-book. Read free excerpts here and here.

His first novel "The Foolchild Invention" is also available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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