Earnest, slightly hokey Michael Crichton’style adventure tale that poses an extraterrestrial origin for some of humanity’s best and worst traits. Poking around in a West African cave, paleoanthropologist Samantha Colby discovers a tall, eight-fingered skeleton of what could only be an alien being. The volcanic rock surrounding the skeleton dates the remains to prehistoric times, when human beings were barely more than upright apes. One of the skeleton’s hands melodramatically clutches a strangely luminous device. Instead of announcing her find, Colby dispatches fellow scientist Riccardo Olivarez, a genius comically prone to air sickness, to Ecuador, where her former lover and colleague, Jack Austin, is promulgating his Chariots-of-the-Gods theories of ancient alien visitations for the benefit of bored American college students. Of course, Austin is delighted to find what appears to be proof of his theories, especially when the alien’s genetic material corresponds somewhat to that of modern homo sapiens. Just as the passion that drew him to the brilliant and beautiful Samantha begins to smolder, he meets Benjamin Dorn, a nasty South African arms dealer who is not only financing Samantha’s research but is also her new lover. What follows is a predictable rehash: hot-headed Austin wants to announce the discovery so he can bask in righteous vindication, while Dorn prefers to exploit it for greedy ends, and Samantha, who wants to be loved for her scientific mind, has to choose. Newcomer Becker’s grasp of speculative anthropology is surprisingly down-to-earth—he appends a solemn afterword on unanswered questions about human origins, including a bibliography ranging from Charles Darwin to Carl Sagan. But such high seriousness is undermined by gratuitous gunplay, turbid romance, and spy-versus-spy plotting. The climax sends a boatload of alien artifacts to the bottom of the ocean, dangling the possibility of a sequel. A better-than-average debut that evokes suspense and moments of gee-whiz wonder from a tired science-fictional premise.