Friday, May 03, 2024

Extinction, a superb scientific thriller


Douglas Preston 

Extinction. (Forge, 2024)

Wow. This is a terrific thriller, and my favorite of Preston’s solo novels. While I’m a faithful reader of everything by Preston and/or Childs, this might be the most fun I’ve had since it all started with Relic

Preston knows readers will look at his valley of de-extincted Ice Age mammals and think, “Jurassic Park,” so he has fun by having his characters trash the films at every opportunity. While his wealthy entrepreneur and brilliant and slightly mad scientist didn’t bring back any apex predators, the vividly written mammoths, glyptodonts, Irish elk, and others draw a stream of healthy visitors to this beautiful site in Colorado.

The murder of two guests kicks off the thread of an investigation that runs through the book. Agent Cash and Sheriff Colcord conduct a superbly written, suspenseful series of investigations as things get weirder and deaths continue. The company is up to something even stranger than bringing back mammoths, but the investigators don’t know what is or how it’s connected to the murders. A mix of grieving parents, secretive executives, cultists in the forest, and a movie company using mammoths in a Western (go with it) add to the fun and suspense. And when you think you’ve solved the mystery, you haven’t.  

The characters are excellent. Cash is especially notable because most writers would make her Hollywood pretty, not plain and a bit stout. She has a secret past which implies we’ll see her in another book, and I hope so. She and Colcord’s initially prickly partnership changes to professional respect and friendship, not a throwaway sex scene. 

I guessed the first of two twists - that they are breeding Neanderthals. The scientist in chief teaches the surprisingly intelligent “cave men” not just English, but use computers and other modern technology. What could go wrong? How about “everything?” Preston’s take on this subspecies is original and surprising, though the pale skin doesn't mesh with current thought and a super-researcher like Preston has to know this. 

The second twist doesn’t strike until the last chapters, and I didn’t see it coming. I won’t spoil it, but it’s stunning and adds a great deal of emotional weight to the novel. Finally, an Afterword explains the scientific thinking, some of it controversial Preston put into the novel. You’ll be disquieted about both the past and the future. 

There’s not much to nitpick here. All the animals are at the high end of their real-life sizes, but that’s logical if you’re choosing the genes for animals to exhibit. Preston’s ground sloth is too big, though. A “honey wagon” on a movie set is a portable bathroom, not a star’s trailer (unless the character mentioning it is being sarcastic). 

It's a satisfying read in every possible way.  I stayed up late reading this, You will, too. 

Matt Bille is a writer, historian, and naturalist living in Colorado Springs. He can be reached at Website:

Read Matt's Latest book, Of Books and Beasts: A Cryptozoologist's Library. This unique reference offers a friendly skeptic's 400 reviews of books on cryptozoology, zoology, related sciences, and cryptozoological fiction. Your search for the world's new and undiscovered animals begins here!

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