It's unusual for an award-winning Maui photographer to be an accomplished reporter. It's even more unusual for a photojournalist to come up with a four-part novel set in Europe 32,000 years ago.
There are many on Maui who have been photographed by Matt Thayer during his more than three decades of shooting for The Maui News. Matt, a longtime friend and colleague, has worn out a series of cars and trucks traveling to every corner of the island.
During the last decade or so, while heading out on assignment or looking for shots documenting Maui's lighter side, an idea stemming from a Pennsylvania farmer's journal of his life and times circa 1900 occupied a far recess of his mind. Matt was a teenager working on a family farm during the summer when he read those handwritten accounts of a life close to the land. "I was fascinated by the journal," he said.
A photo safari through Europe coalesced the fascination into an epic tale. Matt began carrying two notebooks, one for the information needed to context his Maui News photographs - he never failed to come back with a shot that often ended up on the front page - and the other with ideas for a book. The book turned into four volumes. There was too much story for just one.
The four volumes - three have been published - collective became the "30,000 B.C. Chronicles." Although any of the three can be read independently, the first volume, subtitled "Bordeaux," introduces readers to the basic premise and cast of characters. The second book in the "Chronicles" is subtitled "Tuscany." The third volume, published last week, is subtitled "Gibraltar." Each subtitle refers to the characters' location, but that is incidental to a story that combines science fiction, fact-based speculative history, adventure and romance.
As you might expect from a man who has spent his adult life collecting images, the books are cinematic. Nearly every page presents a detailed portrait of the characters, what they are going through and their environment. It will be a dull reader who doesn't create his or her own movie out of Thayer's words.
A rigorously trained crew of 97 time travels to the Paleolithic when Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon coexisted. They are supposed to only observe, but interaction with the protohumans proves necessary for survival. The scientists and engineers goof badly. Equipment self-destructs and the expedition is hit by a tsunami. Within two weeks, only six of the crew survive. In a matter of months, there are only four left. Accepting the premise takes very little "suspension of disbelief." The story and the characters are that compelling.
"30,000 B.C. Chronicles, Gibraltar" takes a two-man crew overland through what is now France. American Capt. Juniper Jones is a hard-nosed professional soldier. Cpl. Salvatore Bolzano is an Italian playboy on the journey only because his father pulled strings. Jones and Bolzano are guided by Graybeard, a Cro-Magnon storyteller who is chief of the Turtle Clan.
While they trek north to investigate a possible sighting of other time travelers, the other two survivors sail a makeshift catamaran around the Iberian Peninsula toward Brittany as a backup to the land crew.
On the boat is Portuguese Maria Duarte, a botanist determined to catalog everything she sees. Her shipmate and lover is Paul Kaikane, an easygoing Hawaiian from Lahaina where he became a consummate waterman. His knowledge of the ocean and its critters saves them from disaster.
All of this becomes known when archaeologists from the future retrieve indestructible computers stashed in predetermined locations. The story is told through voice recordings and journal entries. The journal entries in the latest volume reveal the characters' back stories and literally flesh out the individuals involved. Readers will end up respecting Jones, laughing at Bolzano and loving Duarte and Kaikane.
I had a hand in editing the books and am looking forward to the next installment. All three of the "30,000 B.C. Chronicles" are available at most Internet sites selling e-books. The fourth volume, "Galway," is due out in 2015.
Matt Thayer has written a legitimate page-turner, one that keeps the reader eagerly anticipating what comes next, especially since each volume ends in a cliffhanger.
* Ron Youngblood is a retired editor and staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.