Friday, September 12, 2014

James Rollins Pushes A 6th Extinction

The 6th Extinction
The 6th Extinction by James Rollins opens up with a rousing start. A secret government project being conducted by the U.S. Development Test Command in the Sierra Nevada mountains is sabotaged. A Yosemite Valley park ranger spots an unmarked helicopter as it takes off from the hidden base. A mysterious fog boils out over the surrounding landscape and begins destroying all organic life in its path.

It is within these first few frantic pages park ranger Jenna Beck and her Siberian husky Nikko are sent scrambling in retreat as the unexplained toxin envelope drifts outward over the landscape, eventually finding a hilltop ghost town that remains temporarily above the lower elevations of death. But even this reprieve is short lived: The cloud is slowly creeping up the hill and the helicopter has returned.

The 6th Extinction is the tenth book of the Sigma series. 

At the heart of The 6th Extinction is the recognition that this world is on the cusp of several significant changes. The most pressing of which is tied to the extinction itself as the planet continues to suffer mass biodiversity losses that include the extinction of 320 terrestrial vertebrates since 1500 and a decrease of many surviving species by as much as 25 percent.

Rollins tackles what he calls a schism between old school conservationists and new groups of ecologists that welcome extinction, believing it will eventually usher forth new and more robust plant and animal life. Some are even prepared to help nature along with a cross between genetics and synthetic biology with an emphasis on XNA, a nucleic acid that is not naturally found in nature.

Some of the findings associated with XNA are both fascinating and startling. Namely, there exists a possibility of a future synthetic life form based purely on XNA and that XNA organisms could potentially harm RNA/DNA organisms (such as humans). This is only one of several scientific findings Rollins has woven into the story. Science is quietly marching forward and making things at a remarkably fast pace, including concepts that involve making existing organisms hardier.

Although thinner than many in the Sigma series, this is the foundation that Rollins introduces into the tenth installment before sticking the fictional division of the U.S. DARPA program, SIGMA force, between two factions of scientists — those believing they can save species and those believing the time is right to usher forth a new Eden. And both, regardless which one believes holds the higher moral ground, prove to be equally dangerous.

The 6th Extinction is one that threatens mankind's own extinction. 

James Rollins
Mass extinctions are particularly damaging to biodiversity because ecosystems are generally fragile, relaying a series of checks and balances that humankind is not always clear in understanding. In many cases, species that co-exist risk falling together like dominos.

In The 6th Extinction, Sigma Force has a much more supportive role. Members of the highly skilled military operation and expert scientists are tasked with containing the growing threat in California and unraveling the mysterious motivations of the saboteur. Like many series novels, the answer lies in a remote location and this one is no exception.

It leads to Antarctica and, even more mysterious, a subterranean world that hides beneath its frozen wind-swept mountains of rock and snow. Taking a lead role in the expedition is Painter Crowe while his fiancee Lisa Cummings works to find a way to contain and cure whatever was released from the secret base.

The 6th Extinction By James Rollins Infects 4.4 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Rollins once again relies on his ability to link ancient secrets and modern-day science to create a compelling intellectual connection between them, which drives the story. But while the book can easily stand alone like most Sigma series books, series readers will find some elements of The 6th Extinction seem too familiar but without the same bite for want of a more aggressive adversary.

Earlier books are the better bet for a true introduction. But even so, the novel is still an entertaining read that is backed by relevant science occurring all around us. You can find The Sixth Extinction (Sigma Force) from James Rollins on Amazon or download an electronic version for iBooks. The audiobook is narrated by Christian Baskous, who read the previous installment. The 6th Extinction is also available at Barnes & Noble. 
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