In this debut sci-fi thriller, a World Health Organization agent, while investigating a frightening new plague in the South Pacific, discovers an ancient extraterrestrial force that could advance all terrestrial life—or destroy it.
Author Lentz’s compact, fine-tuned narrative begins as WHO operative Colin Grier is ordered to confront an outbreak of a frightening new plague in New Guinea. Degrading and mutating plant and animal life alike, the disease seems to emanate from a portentous, disc-shaped silver object, embedded, along with other anachronisms, in 2-million-year-old limestone beneath a Khmer temple. Moreover, in a somewhat spiritual note, the contagion appears to affect morally different people in different ways; inherently “evil” ones mutate into loathsome, pustule-covered maniacs, while “good” ones suffer dangerous paralysis but develop increased intellects, clairvoyance, and telepathy. With a strike force just hours away from quarantining the site permanently, Grier, a beautiful girl named Margo, and a handful of enlightened scientist-mystics must solve the enigma of the device and, if possible, discover the nature of alien intelligences who created it. Lentz never uses the acronym for the World Health Organization, WHO, but elements of the British sci-fi TV series Doctor Who would be quite apt here. Outbursts of Grand Guignol gore, Dan Brown–esque action, and Michael Crichton–style hard-science charts and statistics yield in the final act to a climax not unlike that of Stanley Kubrick’s classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. The book effectively jettisons the usual genre-fiction notions of tidy denouements and happily-ever-afters to take its characters into a surreal realm of infinite possibilities, rebooting human history without all the mess-ups. It’s up to the reader whether this takes the sturdy plot off the rails—or if there never were any rails.
A well-told hard-sci-fi yarn of otherworldly jeopardy and ancient aliens that turns uncharacteristically mystical-minded in the end.