“Always respect Mother Nature. Especially when she weighs 400 pounds and is guarding her baby.” The X Factor.
Matthew Pike, Alaskan Fish and Game Warden, believed the most he had to worry about was dodging angry Grizzly bears in the Alaskan wilderness until he watches a plane crash just miles from his location. He pulls a Seattle Reporter named Craig Teague out of the wreckage and before he can even process what is going on another plane flies over and drops Russian mercenaries with ice bikes on top of him. Pike’s Green Beret training can only take him so far, but the Alaskan wilderness proves to be an even bigger weapon. 1932 The Tuskegee Syphilis Study begins. Two hundred black men diagnosed with syphilis are never told of their illness, are denied treatment, and instead are used as human guinea pigs. They all subsequently die from syphilis.
The action lands Pike on his ex-wife’s doorstep. Jenny is not exactly glad to see him especially since he brought unwanted company. They manage to elude their pursuers in Jenny’s plane, but this only creates more questions than answers. Why are the Russians trying to kill Teague?1940 Four hundred prisoners in Chicago are infected with malaria in order to study the effects of new and experimental drugs to combat the disease. Nazi doctors later on trial at Nuremberg cite this American study to defend themselves.
They head to Teague’s original destination Ice Station Grendel, a recently rediscovered secret base built by the Russians during World War Two into an iceberg twice the size of the United States. A team of American scientists are there investigating the five steel encased levels of the base and they are marveling at the technology and are horrified by what resides on level four.1956 The U.S. military releases mosquitoes infected with yellow fever over Savannah, Georgia, and Avon Park, Florida. Following each test, Army agents posing as public health officials test victims for effects.
Among the scientists is Dr. Amanda Reynolds an engineer who also happens to be deaf. As she explores the Station and the crawl space, a warren of tunnels behind the station, she finds things that shouldn’t be there. Creatures last alive 50 million years ago. “The creature filled the passage, shouldering up to the crossroads. In the shadows, it looked as black as oil, but they knew it was as pale as bleached bone.”
I’d tell you more about these creatures, but it is just too damn scary. They call the creatures Grendel because they are as terrifying as that legendary monster was to the Norsemen.
One thing that was really interesting for me was thinking about experiencing terror and being deaf. When the lights go out in the tunnel Amanda is not only deaf, but blind as well. This certainly added to her terror and to mine. At other times because she couldn’t hear she did not experience the same level of terror of the people that could hear the approaching danger. What we hear definitely escalates our terror and helps us make decisions to fight or flee or can also paralyses us somewhere in between. 1966 U.S. Army dispenses Bacillus subtilis variant niger throughout the New York City subway system. More than a million civilians are exposed when Army scientists drop lightbulbs filled with the bacteria onto ventilation grates.
The Arctic wood frogs play a part in our plot. James Rollins usually manages to expose me to something I didn’t know before. ”Arctic wood frogs freeze as hard as stone during the winter. Their hearts don’t beat. When frozen, you can cut them in half, and they don’t bleed. All EEG activity ceases. In fact, there’s no cellular activity at all. For all intents and purposes, they’re dead. But come spring, they thaw, and within fifteen minutes, their hearts are beating, blood pumping and they’re jumping around.”
Okay, what the heck?
I thought maybe this was one of those moments verging on science fiction that Rollins sometimes sticks in his book. So tell me how is this possible Monsieur Rollins?”Sugar.
Glucose specifically. There’s a Canadian researcher, Dr. Ken Storey, who has been studying Arctic wood frogs for the past decade. What he’s discovered is that when ice starts forming on a frog’s rubbery skin, its body starts filling each cell with sugary glucose. Increasing the osmalality of the cell to the point that life-killing ice can’t form inside it.”
Wait a minute, the frogs do freeze so doesn’t that still have the same devastating effect on their cells as frostbite?”It is only the water outside the cells that ices up. The glucose inside the cell acts as a cryoprotectant, a type of antifreeze, preserving the cell until thawed. Dr. Storey determined that this evolutionary process is governed by a set of twenty genes that convert glycogen to glucose. The trigger for what suddenly turns these specific genes on or off is still unknown, but a hormonal theory is most advocated, something released by the frog’s glandular skin. The odd thing, though, is that these twenty genes are found in all vertebrate species.”
Now that sounds like the type of information that two countries involved in a cold war might possibly be interested in exploring further. Rollins includes a long list of known events where the U.S. government conducted illegal experiments on their citizens. I’ve shared a few of them in this review. Still into the 1990s those experiments continued.
Our heroes are put through the ringer what with plane crashes, a demented Russian submarine commander, America Delta Forces that may or may not be there to save them, blizzard conditions, freezing waters, and don’t forget those vicious damn Grendels. It is all a web of lies with two governments trying to protect secrets that shouldn’t have ever existed in the first place.
The interesting thing about James Rollins is he is a Veterinarian by trade who to escape the frustrations and stresses of his job would come home and write these adventure tales to entertain himself and to relieve some the strain of his daily life. He soon discovered that he would rather spend more of his time writing than he would practicing medicine. I don’t believe you can walk into an airport bookstore anywhere in the world without finding a James Rollins book.
I used to read a lot of thriller books in this vein, searching for that same excitement I felt when I read Treasure Island
for the first time. I can tap into it for a while. Rollins had me caught up in the convolutions of the plot for about half the book, but invariably I end up hitting a wall. I love the mixture of science, action, and always a bit of the science fiction element (reasonably plausible though) that he infuses in every book. I may not be the right reader for his books anymore, but I will still occasionally throw one in the reading queue hoping that this time he and I will hit on all cylinders... after all... he is one heck of a nice guy. I like his signature and he always puts a doodle. In this case, not as inspiring as usual with a triangle.