Book 40: Ancestor by Scott Sigler, isbn 9780307406330, 425 pages, Crown, $24.99
Scott Sigler's latest hardcover from Crown is an re-issue / expansion of a story that Sigler first released as an audiobook podcast, then as a limited edition print book. Apparently, part of his contract with Crown was a guarantee to re-issue Ancestor. I'm glad he did. I haven't heard the podcasts, nor do I have a copy of the limited edition (having become a Sigler Junkie only with Crown's publication of Infected a few years back), so I was able to approach this edition with fresh eyes rather than looking for the changes made.
As he did in Infected and its sequel Contagious, Sigler continues to mine the landscape where medical thrillers and hard science fiction cross-breed. This time, he throws a little cabin-in-the-woods slasher flick dna into the mix as well. The short version of the plot, without giving away any more than the cover copy does: after a lab experiment goes awry and a debilitating cross-species virus almost escapes, a US cover military team starts shutting down all private research facilities working on developing a process for easier transplanting of animal organs into humans. One of the labs they are hunting, led by former team member PJ Colding, drops completely off the radar -- because Colding's team is very close to genetically engineering an animal that would be bred solely for the purposes of harvesting organs: a computer-grown, bovine-gestated animal created from the genetic pattern of what they think is the 'ancestor' to all modern mammals. But something in the coding goes wrong, and the creators become the prey trapped on a bleak snow-covered island.
What I like:
Sigler doesn't rush the reveal of the Ancestors. The book is as much about the tension among the team creating them as it is about what happens when they come into existence, if not moreso. In fact, he delays the full reveal until late in the book -- much like the way Ridley Scott delayed showing us what the Alien looked like, teasing us with half-glimpses while ratcheting up the tension by allowing us to be as confused and scared as the characters in the story. Of course, once they are revealed, it's a full-speed race to the end of the book. I read the final 140 pages in a mad rush, staying up way past the point I should have been asleep on a work night. It's a rare book that can get me to do that these days. Sigler manages it.
Sigler also fills the book with characters who are diverse enough to be individuals, and interesting enough to rise above the stock roles you find in such stories. PJ Colding's reasons for essentially going rogue are believable, as are Sara Purinam's reasons for not trusting him. Three characters border on stereotype with not much depth (Magnus, Andy, and Rhumkorff), but they play their parts well regardless. And Sigler even breathes decent life into the requisite cannon-fodder secondary characters. In particular, I felt like I knew, and could really 'hear' the characters of James and Stephanie Harvey.
What I didn't like:
In addition to the somewhat stereotypical nature of the human bad-guys (as opposed to the predatory Ancestors), the other thing that bothered me was the virtual disappearance of one somewhat-major character, Paul Fischer, at about the book's three-quarter mark. This is either a brilliant strategy on Sigler's part (dropping the Fischer sub-plot enables the author to avoid the "easy resolution" to the situation), or not. My jury is still out on that.
What I hope:
We already know there will be a sequel. My hope is that the Fischer storyline will get picked up and dovetail with the story of the human survivors of the book, justifying the time invested in introducing and developing him.
A kick-ass snow-mobile roller-coaster of a ride: it starts out slow and detailed, builds well, pays off at the end, and gives us something to worry about for the future. The science is believable, the military jargon sounds dead-on, and the tension is leavened with doses of black (sometimes very black) humor. Highly, highly recommended.