▸ science thriller

Read: Black Order

With now having read the third book in a series by James Rollins, he is now officially part of my rotation.

Black Order is a nice mix of action adventure, thriller, and science fiction. It is certainly not (high brow) literature but it is good for relaxing a couple of hours. Even though the characters (within a given book) still remain a bit flat, over the course of several novels in the series there is now some noticeable character development.

And even though I did not want to think (much) while reading the (such a) book, there was an interesting take on intelligent design.

Two things annoyed me.

First, the publisher should spend some money on a foreign language editor before a book is printed. There are some foreign language words and phrases (as it happens, most of them in German) that are just plain wrong. At least once I could only get the meaning after trying to conceive how an automatic translation would translate that phrase. At any rate, the title of the book should be translated correctly: And no, “Black Order” is not “Schwarzer Auftrag.”

Second, the book could have ended one supernatural experience earlier.

Read: The Tower

Now, with the third installment of Toyne’s Sancti trilogy, things take a strange, unexpected turn. What started as a religious thriller, an esoteric, cabalistic piece of pulp fiction, has turned almost into a science thriller. The religious characters are reduced to nut jobs.

The origin of the story is perfectly obscure and the new character’s plot line is quite dominant, and indeed even more interesting than what happens to and with the old protagonists. Yet, to the original story this new plot line adds nothing, or very little. Rather, it subtracts from it. The concept of the first (oppressed) tribe is diluted, reduced to a free mason lodge. Toyne drifts away from his original idea.

Hence, despite being an entertaining novel The Tower shows that Toyne is not capable of staying within the confines of his own fictional world and produce an internally consistent piece of fiction. Resorting to over-used tropes isn’t a good sign either.

Read: Sixty Days and Counting

After reading Robinson’s Fifty Degrees Below I was hoping the “science science fiction” trilogy would get better with its concluding volume. It didn’t.

The trilogy started as science fiction about science. You got a glimpse at academia, research and administration, and the plot’s background addressed a serious, topical issue: global warming. That was the first volume. Unique and interesting enough to get me on reading despite the novel’s flaws. The second volume, I still do not know what to make of the second volume.

And now, the third volume is even worse. Sixty Days and Counting is strangely anticlimactic. It is not science fiction about science any more but an odd mix of political thriller, conspiracy theory novel, spy novel, new age self improvement, and rant against capitalism. Yes, the ranting about the evil economic system, the evil capitalists' exploitation of the poor 99% that put me off in the first volume is back. The transitions between the genres do not succeed and the book would not be a good example for any of these genres.

Bottom line: Sixty Days and Counting was a waste of time and I am seriously concerned about my memory as I was pretty sure that I liked Robinson’s Mars trilogy. It was well written and absolutely enjoyable. Can a writer deteriorate that dramatically?

Read: Altar of Eden

Despite its title James Rollins' Altar of Eden is not even close to the religiously themed novels of Dan Brown and others. It is a science thriller, an action adventure, no supernatural mysteries here.

Rollins is a seasoned writer and there is very little about the novel that I did not like. The pre-story is too short. It should have been much longer, going into greater depth (Cussler seems to have found a good length for his setting of the stage), or it shouldn’t be there at all. There is also one sub-plot and its villain, in particular the villain, that I am not fond of. The sub-plot adds nicely to the character building of the heroine. The re-appearance of the sub-plots villain, however, is too much of a coincident and it does not add anything to the entertainment value of the novel.

That said, the novel was highly entertaining, gripping as a thriller should be.

Read: The Sanctuary

Dual (or multiple) interwoven time lines seem pretty popular in current successful novels. The Sanctuary, for instance, connects one story plot playing in the early 1700 with one in the early 2000. Raymond Khoury mixes quite a bit of action – shoot outs, kidnappings, hot pursuits – a string of coincidences with an appealing scientific motive. Though the general level of violence and the number of shady characters is rather high the novel also brings up an interesting mix of moral attitudes and scientific ethics.

How far should you go, how far can you go to achieve your goal? Here, questionable scientific experiments, torture, and murder are obviously accepted means to reach the end. On top of that, even the goal is “ethically challenged.” Should one strive to find the cure for death, to prolong one’s life beyond the normal expectations? And, should you share that knowledge?

For this novel does not tell the “usual” quest for a religious artifact or a secret that could shatter the foundations of the Church, it does tell the quest for a vaccine to cure the disease of aging. And prolongevity – doubling, tripling the healthy human life expectancy – raises some serious social and moral questions.

These questions are far more interesting than the novel itself that only cursorily is concerned with them.

Still, The Sanctuary is quite entertaining – even though Khoury’s first novel The Last Templar was a bit more enjoyable and enthralling.

Read: Thunderhead

It was time for another science thriller by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child: Thunderhead is set in the Pendergast-universe, though the FBI agent himself does not appear in this novel. The story takes places some time before Cabinet of Curiosities, that is even before the rather ambivalent Diogenes trilogy 1 2 3 that was my reason to start reading Preston and Child novels. The only known character (given the timeline of novels) is the journalist Smithback who accompanies an archaeological dig in a remote corner of Utah’s canyon country. The leader of the expedition Nora Kelly will re-appear in later novels, too, one additional character that will be recycled throughout the series.

Thunderhead is less mysterious and less mystic than most other Pendergast novels. The solution to the single seemingly mystic puzzle is almost mundane. Yet, or maybe for this reason, the novel is a very entertaining and absorbing reading.

Read: Riptide

After having gotten a little disappointed by the last Pendergast novels of the author duo Preston and Child I started to read their non-Pendergast work. Give them a second chance so to speak. And indeed I felt reasonably well entertained. So now, about half a year and one relocation later I read the next book on the Preston and Child shelf (ok, it’s only part of a shelf, one of my to-read shelves). Riptide is more an adventure story than a science thriller. And therefore is already different from the other Preston and Child novels I have read so far. There is a little romance, just a little though. And there are a few violent deaths, yet you never feel like the gore is dripping from the pages. The story is well paced and, of course, all the mysteries have a scientific explanation. All in all the book is quite absorbing.

Consequently, I mostly enjoyed reading it. However, one tiny little thing kept irritating me. The authors refer to their protagonist interchangeably by his first or his last name. There was no clear pattern. It was not like when they were talking about more personal or emotional things that they would switch to the first name or when they wanted to introduce more objectivity they would use his last name. No. Absolutely no pattern. I guess most people would not notice but as I said I felt a bit irritated. It seemed like the authors followed the ill-advised journalists' / writers' rule: Do not bore the reader by using the same word twice.

Gelesen: Mount Dragon

Endlich, denn ich muss gestehen, dass mir der Mysterie-Science Mix der Pendergast-Reihe mittlerweile nicht mehr so gut gefällt wie dies noch bei den ersten beiden Bänden der Pendergastreihe der Fall war, habe ich mal zu einem der Nicht-Pendergast Bücher des Autoren-Duos Preston und Child gegriffen. Mount Dragon thematsisert die Gefahren der Gentechnologie insbesondere aber die Veränderung von menschlichem Erbgut mit Hilfe genmodifizierter Viren und den noch zu wenig erforschten Nebenwirkungen genmodifizierter Produkte für den menschlichen Konsum. Nebenbei gibt es noch ein wenig Schatzsuche, Identitätsfindung und persönliche Streitigkeiten, leicht übertriebenes Heldentum und etwas Technikspielerei, die eigentlich nichts mit dem Plot und den Figuren zu tun hat.

Wie anfangs erwähnt, ist dieses Buch in meinen Augen eine ganze Ecke besser als die letzten Pendergast Bücher, die ich gelesen habe. Damit ist Mount Dragon eindeutig als spannend zu bezeichnen und durchaus zu empfehlen.