Friday September 14, 2012
A roller-coaster read
Review by MARTIN SPICE
Author: James Rollins
Publisher: William Morrow,
THE only way that I can write this review with a shred of integrity intact is to start by admitting that Bloodline really isn’t my kind of book. I have, over the years, read and reviewed most of the big name adventure writers like Michael Crichton and Clive Cussler and every time I have struggled to grasp their undoubted appeal.
Fanciful adventures, unrealistic plots, characters lacking in depth, pseudo-science, simplistic prose – the reverse, in short, of most of the attributes of what I regard as a good book. And yet, I have also had the nagging doubt that I am missing something.
These writers enjoy huge fan bases and their cumulative sales total millions. They are sure-fire toppers of best-seller lists and their every book is a guaranteed international success story. Clearly, there is a massive market out there for escapist fiction, so even if I am not a natural part of that market, it doesn’t hurt every now and again to dip into it. Which is why, despite everything I have just said, I ended up reading Bloodline.
Fans of James Rollins will already know that this latest book is another of the Sigma Force series, but strangers to those earlier novels may be re-assured to know that Bloodline stands up well on its own. At no point did I find myself floundering around, missing key bits of characterisation or plot because it was contained elsewhere. No, if you are a die-hard Sigma fan you will pick up where you left off with The Devil Colony and if you are a new arrival on the scene, then you can be assured of a roller-coaster ride from the moment of your introduction to the Guild and its counter force, Sigma.
Bloodline is built around a complex plot which at its heart spins around two organisations. The Guild is one of those shadowy but all-powerful secret organisations beloved of writers of this genre. Tracing their roots back to the Knights Templar, they have developed into a force that embraces men and women of wealth, power and influence world-wide. Their goal in this book is to make immortality possible through intervention in the DNA helix. Needless to say, this involves some ghastly experiments, a number of hidden clinical laboratories and some unwilling human subjects for experimentation. One of these turns out to be the daughter of the President of the United States who is kidnapped by pirates off Somalia. The red alert that follows brings into play the Sigma team.
The Sigma Force is made up of Special Forces soldiers who have been retrained in various scientific disciplines and is a covert wing for DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. These are the tough good guys – of both sexes - who are sent out into the world to stem global threats by the bad guys. At heart, this is pretty much a “goodies versus baddies” conflict but the tricky bit can be in identifying which is which.
Much has been made of Rollins’ veterinary science background and he has certainly pulled together an intriguing range of medical and technological issues for this book. Firstly, of course, there is the whole issue of immortality. Is it attainable? And, perhaps more to the point, would we want it even if it were? Reader, be careful what you wish for; living forever may not be all it is cracked up to be!
In an Author’s Note at the end of the book, Rollins introduces (for most of us) the deeply uncomfortable world of neuro-robotics. There is a link to a video showing a small vehicle being driven by a rat’s brain and another of a robotic swarm which involves robots co-ordinating together to achieve a common goal – like wiping out mankind. This extends to airborne robotic swarms. These are, he suggests, genuine videos which suggest that we are further down this road of possibilities than my clearly antiquated ideas of sci-fi had imagined.
These and a great many other things rack up the tension in Bloodline as the Sigma Force finds itself fighting on the technological frontline as well as at the furthest reach of its members’ intellectual and physical capabilities. The Sigma secret weapon which I liked best, however, was a good old-fashioned war dog called Kane whose behaviour throughout was exemplary.
Bloodline has lots of pace, lots of action, lots of suspense and lives up to its thriller billing. I started by saying it isn’t really for me but many readers out there will not be disappointed by this thoroughly professional addition to the Sigma series.