Review by C.J. Bunce

Twelve Days is Steven Barnes’ latest sci-fi novel, an urban thriller delving into the evolution of the human brain.  Olympia Dorsey is a single mother of two, working for an Atlanta news outlet.  Her son Hannibal is autistic, and Olympia has been called into his school where they suggest sending her son to a better center for his care.  The center, a spiritual headquarters shrouded in Indian mysticism and nestled in the mountains, sounds too good to be true.  So she brings along her ex-boyfriend neighbor in their first visit to meet a Doctor Strange-esque mystic and martial arts expert who uses her influence and charisma to convince them she has the place for Hannibal’s care, evening promising a complete turnaround for the child in ten days.  Barnes’ crafts a slowly-building story where Olympia, desperate to improve the life of her autistic child, allows herself to be reeled in.

Olympia’s boyfriend Terry is ex-military, and had been plotting a jewel heist with his old military pals, but after his confrontation with the mystic he is somehow changed.  Can he make a clean break from his own criminal enterprise?   What is the motivation of this cult?  Influence?  Money?  Power?  Revenge?  Is the threatened apocalypse in only twelve days real or only a distraction?  And can Olympia get out before it’s too late?

Not like even the typical cult, the mystical mountain facility evokes the frightening Jefferson Institute of Robin Cook’s Coma, only here the victim’s organs aren’t harvested for money.  Here the victims are used as brainwashed agents to use their brainwaves to kill people far away, when submerged in a chamber not unlike that of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report.  It’s when the science fiction begins that Twelve Days kicks in.  Borrowing from the ideas of Joseph Ruben’s 1984 film Dreamscape, Twelve Days presents the most unusual of assassination tools to eliminate all the members of an anonymously leaked “Death List”–a dead pool list that includes both the world’s most wanted criminals, but also its leaders.  Each is being systematically eliminated, and even more are projected to die within twelve days.

Barnes’s detail work and attribution to Indian religion is well integrated into the novel.  He also offers some intriguing postulates into the mechanics and thought processes of a child with autism.

The story includes suspenseful elements of film classics like The Manchurian Candidate and Fallen.  You can read the first chapters of Twelve Days at the Tor Books website here.  Barnes has written several novels, including the Star Wars novel The Cestus Deception, the novelization of Star Trek Deep Space Nine’s Far Beyond the Stars, and many more.

Twelve Days is a good thriller–not full of complexities and multiple plot threads, it quickly hones in on its story, and makes for an interesting, if creepy, summer read.  It’s available now here at Amazon.

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