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Altar of Eden Unabridged CD Paperback – December 29, 2009
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Guest Review: Steve Berry on Altar of Eden by James RollinsI first started to hate James Rollins in 1999. That was when I picked up a paperback original called Subterranean, Rollins' first book. While I was struggling even to write a manuscript, this veterinarian out in California had actually done it and sold the thing. I hated him. Over the next few years, I would wander into a bookstore and discover that the 'vet from Sacramento' had written more stories. I read them all, titles like Ice Hunt, Amazonia, and Excavation and hated him even more. There I was, struggling to get published, and this guy had found the big time.
I finally made it to print in 2003 and, sure enough, who's my chief competition? You got it. James Rollins. The guy creates Sigma Force and writes one New York Times bestseller after another. Titles like Map of Bones, Black Order, The Last Oracle, and The Judas Strain. Amazingly, while this string of Rollins' books flooded bookstores, I managed to eke out some modest success. But every time things started going right, here came that 'vet from California' again with another book.
Occasionally, I'm asked to provide a quote or two for someone else's book. I can't tell you how many times my words of praise languish on the back cover while Rollins' is front and center. Rollins. Rollins. Rollins. That's all I hear. Even on Amazon, in the section titled "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought," ON MY BOOK PAGES, there's always a Rollins cover or two staring back at me from the screen.
And, if things weren't bad enough, the 'vet from California' wrote another series. Some character called Jake Ransom and The Skull King's Shadow. It's not enough Rollins is everywhere in adult fiction (taking up valuable spots on the bestseller lists), now he has to claim a piece of the young adult pie, too. I read that he's going to write more of those things. Apparently, the first one did okay. Like that was a big surprise.
Which brings us to Altar of Eden, Rollins' latest concoction. Here he goes again, not satisfied with a thriller out in the summer, he has to publish another in the winter. Which, by the way, directly competes with me (of course, Rollins doesn't care). This new book has it all. A savvy veterinarian (like that was a stretch), genetic engineering on long extinct animals (which was fascinating, I have to admit), fractal science (whatever that is), biological warfare (in ways you've never seen before), and mach-speed mayhem. The thing is drum-tight in its execution. Does this guy have herbs that stimulate his imagination in some amazing way? I read Altar of Eden in two sittings (yeah, it's that good) and, when finished, I promptly hurled the book across the room. It landed on the shelf where all of Rollins' other tomes stand, each sheathed in plastic, first editions, and, of course, signed (for which he charged me $5.00 a piece, cash. He wouldn't take my check).
'Oh, the humanity.'
I barely bang out a-book-a-year and Rollins writes three.
All of them great.
Like I said, I hate this guy.
Which is too bad, because he's not only a terrific writer but also a close friend. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Bestseller Rollins (Subterranean) explores the genetic engineering theme popularized by Jurassic Park, if less imaginatively than, say, Warren Fahy did in his 2009 debut, Fragment, in this solid stand-alone thriller. During the looting of the Baghdad zoo in the early days of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, 12-year-old Makeen and his younger brother observe two men, one dressed in a khaki military uniform and the other in a dark suit, remove a large metal briefcase containing embryos from a secret facility at the zoo. About five years later, a U.S. Border Patrol helicopter lands at the New Orleans Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species to take Dr. Lorna Polk, a postgraduate resident, out over the Mississippi Delta to an abandoned trawler. In the boat Polk sees cages filled with bizarre creatures like Siamese twin capuchin monkeys and oversized vampire bats. The science mostly takes a backseat to generic suspense scenes of animal attacks, gunfights, and abduction. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
His writing style and ability just seems to make other books seem inferior. This book is no exception. Every aspect of the book was entertaining and well written. Like most of his books, he slowly draws you in within the first 50-60 pages to a point that you feel like you are side by side with the main characters.
James Rollins writes short and to the point. His characters and plot are somewhat similar - short and to the point. And it's enjoyable. The first half of the book sets the stage for genetically altered animals escape into the Bayou after an attempt to smuggle them into the U.S. goes awry.
Rollins writes adventure and pseudo-science well. Think Michael Crichton lite. But that's not a bad thing.
The book is full of gun fights and nasty animals attacks, plus the obligatory evil-scientist-explaining-his-nefarious-plot-to-the-protagonist. But it wraps up the story nicely.
If you're looking for something deep, then keep looking. You can stop looking, however, if you're in the market for a rock solid adventure, with mutated jaguars and super-smart hominids.
Some books can be summarized with a single, high-concept sentence. That's never the case with Rollins, though this book is structured differently and is in many ways simpler than the SIGMA novels. More on that in a moment. The novel opens in the wake of a hurricane. Research veterinarian, Dr. Lorna Polk, is collected from her workplace by a Border Patrol helicopter and ferried out into the Louisiana swamplands. She can't fathom who has requested her or why she is being brought here. The "who" turns out to be Field Operations Supervisor, Jack Menard, a painful ghost from her past. The "why" is a shipwreck. A shipwreck that looks like a nightmarish crime scene, and which holds a most extraordinary living cargo. Her first guess is that they've stumbled upon an exotic animal smuggling ring, but as Rollins writes: "Jack turned and shone his flashlight into the nearest cage. She stared inside--and knew she was wrong about everything." James Rollins is great about writing these hooky endings to his chapters. They're sort of textbook, but irresistible! I know they keep me turning the pages.
I noted the structure of this novel above. The SIGMA novels all contain multiple narrative threads and stories. They're notably complex thrillers. Altar of Eden has a single narrative thread throughout. It is the story of where this discovery takes Jack and Lorna, and it's broken into three discrete parts.
Act One encompasses the first third of the novel, and it reminded me of nothing so much as those old creature feature films from the 70's. You remember the ones? Where the mutant piranhas are heading upstream to the summer camp? That's just a nostalgic example, there are absolutely no mutant piranha in this novel (though if that's your cup of tea, definitely check out Rollins' Amazonia), but SOMETHING has escaped that shipwreck, and it's stalking the bayou. The hunt is on!
Act Two is the shortest of the three. Here, the protagonists have a chance to catch their breath--for like a minute. It's a chance for Lorna and her colleagues to strut their scientific stuff. And this is the part that I have to assume other Rollins fans like me love. Every Rollins novel features at least one element of mind-blowing science. My favorite part of this one involved magnetite crystals in the brain, but the fractals were really cool too! There are tantalizing tidbits from any number of scientific disciplines, but don't worry if you're not as geeky as me. Rollins doesn't go too deeply into anything. His explanations are brief, clear, and intriguing. (As always, he has an author's note at the end to separate fact from fiction. And as always, there's more fact than you might expect.) Unfortunately for our protagonists, the bad guys that were in the background of Act One come front and center in Act Two.
Act Three is the lengthiest of all. It's the endgame. Dr. Polk discovers that what she found in the Mississippi Delta was just the tip of the iceberg. I have to admit that I had a few small quibbles with the end of this novel that I can't discuss without massive spoilers. Nonetheless, those quibbles did not take away from my total enjoyment of this excellent page-turner. I read much of it on an airplane and it kept me compelled for 3,000 miles.
Amusingly, I listened to a large section of this novel on my Kindle while wandering the National Zoo. There are a lot of animals in this novel, so I could read about alligators and monkeys while visiting alligators and monkeys! (Yes, I really AM a huge geek.) I've heard former-vet Rollins discuss why he's never written about a veterinarian before. "Not enough people die," he always says. Well, he finally found a way to make it work. I'm looking forward to more stand alone adventures!