Thursday, February 26, 2009

This is what beach reading is all about!

The Judas Strain by James Rollins

I have to admit that I'm a die-hard James Rollins fan. Cracking open his new book is one of the highlights of my summer. Sure his action can be a bit over-the-top and a few details slightly hyperbolic, LOL. I mean, what's a thriller without the thrills? But the books are consistently well-researched, deftly plotted, and very, very smart.

Probably my favorite aspect of Rollins' thrillers is their integration of science into the story. After all, his team of protagonists, the Sigma Force, is part of a government agency that recruits former special forces operatives and educates them to the Ph.D. level in scientific disciplines. They've got both the military training and the scientific knowledge to investigate technological and scientific phenomenon around the world on behalf of the US government. Not a bad starting premise.

The plots of Rollins' novels tend to be complex, multi-stranded affairs that are difficult to summarize. In Judas Strain, as has been noted by other readers, there is an urgency brought on by a possible pandemic outbreak of bacterial infections. That, in and of itself, is not the most original plot. But in a Rollins novel, it's never that simple. Did you know that only 10 percent of the cells that make up your body are human, and the other 90 percent are alien--bacteria, parasites, etc? It's true, absolutely true. Did you know that the difference between a commonplace, harmless bacteria and a potential killer disease is just the tiniest alteration to its genetic code? What would happen if something altered all the zillions of harmless bacteria we have contact with daily and suddenly they turned on us in the most horrific way imaginable? And I do mean the most horrific way imaginable, because James Rollins is a bit of a sicko, and nothing seems to be off limits for him. What he puts his poor "patient zero" through is--yuck--awful!

But what does all this have to do with the travels of Marco Polo? The architecture of Angor Wat? The behavior of red crabs on Christmas Island? The development of "Angelic" text? The religious beliefs of cannibals? How the heck does Rollins COME UP WITH all this stuff? And most impressively, how the heck does he tie all the strands together! Because he does, most satisfyingly. Although, it must be warned that The Judas Strain leaves readers with a simply terrible cliff-hanger that will have us all on tenterhooks until next summer. Waiting for the next book in the series is going to be torture!

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