The Bone Labyrinth
I like to review novels that lean a lot on science and technology and tease out fact vs. fiction. The thrillers of James Rollins are definitely in this category.
Rollins is working a familiar formula here - the discovery of ancient knowledge with impact on modern science - but he works it like no one else. Globe-trotting adventure, thrilling escapes, interesting characters, and lots of high-tech gadgets are on plentiful display. Another thing that distinguishes Rollins from some competitors is sheer writing ability. Rollins has always been good with the action, but in this novel he hits his high point in creating living, breathing characters we feel for.
The best character here, though, is not human - it's a genetically modified gorilla named Baako. Baako's inner thoughts are believable and his interaction with his human friends is not just emotional, it's heart-rending. We share every moment of an ape researcher's despair when a Chinese maniac prepares Baako for vivisection.Along the way to this pivotal scene and the following rescue (you knew there would be one), Rollins introduces mysterious human ancestors and human-ape hybrids (not created by crossing the animals, that's been discredited, but by careful gene editing, adding traits of one to the other, which is scarily plausible.) He does, this being fiction, take it further than fact allows (no, the ancestor once called Meganthropus was not eight feet tall. Or seven. Or maybe even six). Rollins no doubt knows the name is obsolete, but it's more fun to deal with "Meganthropus" than with "one more of those endless Home erectus variants."
Rollins' novels rely heavily on science and technology. The latter is good as always. The former is a mix. Rollins does enormous research and finds obscure details to ground his narrative (yes, Neil Armstrong really did go on an archaeological expedition to Ecuador.) The challenge for the reader is that Rollins presents both good science and fringe/crackpot science, and he says in his Afterword that he believes at least some of the latter to be true. Even the ultimate crackpot theory, that the Moon is artificial, gets a sympathetic ear, although Rollins doesn't endorse it.
Another odd mistake is that Rollins surely knows better than to call Gigantopithecus a gorilla when it was related to the orangutan (I tried to find current scientific opinions to the contrary, but could not, except for those who hope Giganto = sasquatch (Rollins does a nice job of teasing a possible Yeti connection).). This confusion, and occasional gaps in the logic (how did they get that vanload of chimps out of China?) forced me in my Amazon review to take off a half-star: I was tempted to give it five for sheer entertainment value.
Despite the inclusion of fringe science, the reader of this book will learn a great deal about the latest in genetics, animal communication, and a dozen other fields. I write science and history, so I have some concept of the research involved here. Every Sigma Force novel shows the results of what must total several man-years of hunting for, reading, and analyzing information. So kudos to Rollins for a world well crafted, especially in this book.