Saturday, January 4, 2020

Book Reviews: Ancestor

by Scott Sigler
Michigan born and bred Scott Sigler has carved a niche in the scientific bio-thriller genre over the past two decades or so. All of his work that I've read so far explicitly or at least generally eschews the supernatural. 

Sigler's stories can usually be scientifically explained. That doesn't make any of his stories less thrilling or horrifying. If you dislike authors who make up contradictory rules as they go along and hand wave away inconsistencies by yelling "Magic!!", you might like Sigler's style.

Some respected authors have repeated possibly apocryphal quotes from older authors and screenwriters that there are only a small number of stories from which all writers draw. I don't know about that. I do know that human beings are angered and frightened by death. We can't solve death. 

We are occasionally frustrated that although we can create life in our own image, provided we find a willing fertile partner of the opposite sex, doing so is a messy, chaotic and oft thankless process that may not deliver what was expected. The other parent's genes along with various haphazard experiences impact and mold the child in unplanned ways. We can't create life to exact specifications from scratch.

What if we could create a quick breeding flying creature that eats mosquitoes, breathes carbon and exhales oxygen. That might reduce the dangers of global warming. Or perhaps we could create a mammal that could provide organ donor matches for every human who needed one? What would it be like to have, however tenuously, the power of God (or evolution) to create? That's the theme in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. And that same theme is echoed in Ancestor. This story has some characters seen in the Infected series. 

The US military is tracking down rogue scientists researching disease transfer and organ transplants between humans and animals. The scientists are looking for a way to have a human body routinely accept any organ transplant from another mammal. The human immune system usually won't accept non human organs. 

Even with a successful transplant the non human organ could well carry diseases, bacteria and viruses to which no human has any defenses. Imagine swine flu on steroids.  One group of scientists had that problem and was shut down.

Nobody wants a global pandemic. But the Genada corporation, run by the Canadian-Italian Pagliaone brothers, Dante and Magnus, is bankrolling a group of scientists close to a break through. These scientists, including PJ Colding, Dr. Rhumkorff, and the Chinese prodigy Jian, are about to recreate the common ancestor of all mammals, which would then theoretically be a perfect match for human organ transplant recipients. When governments get close to finding them, Genada moves the group to an isolated Lake Superior island. 

Genada pressures the team to produce, a move that agitates the amoral Rhumkorff and the unstable Jian. The resulting ancestor animals are not what anyone expected. Colding must work again with his ex, Sara, who made it clear that if she never saw Colding again it was too damn soon.

This was a solid read but I didn't like it as much as the Infected series. The author obviously did his research into medicine and science. As a Northern Michigan native, Sigler's knowledge of and love for that area of Michigan and its residents are apparent. I chuckled at Sigler's pointed jabs at some popular romance novels, how some people wrongly believe publishing or writing are easy, and even his own preferred working style. 

The story was very heavy on the science. It took too long for the creatures to show up or for people to believe what they were seeing. There is some humor, from in particular an elderly cantankerous caretaker who has partied with and possibly slept with half of classic Hollywood. This book is a little over 400 pages in hardcover.  The prose is direct and punchy. 
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