Terminal freeze, or flash freezing, is a phenomenon whereby, in
the case presented in this novel, a biological sample subjected to
temperatures well below water's melting/freezing point will freeze
so fast that large ice crystals cannot form and damage the sample.
TERMINAL FREEZE is the title of bestselling author Lincoln
Child’s latest thriller, and it reads like a cross between
one of his earliest works, THE RELIC (co-authored with Douglas
Preston), and John W. Campbell’s classic WHO GOES THERE? (the
basis for the film The Thing).
The novel opens with a prologue featuring a group of Tunits, a
small Native American tribe and branch of the ancient Inuits. The
shaman and tribal leader Usuguk notices a strange color pattern in
the sky that is different from the typical Northern Lights. It is
distinctly red, and Usuguk recognizes it as a sign that the natural
order was out of balance and one of their gods --- Kuuk’juag
the Hunter --- has been angered. Usuguk has seen this happen before
and realizes it can only mean that disaster will befall those who
have broken the ancient rules.
North of the Arctic Circle in Alaska, paleoecologist Evan
Marshall is leading an expedition of fellow scientists who are
studying the effects of global warming on sub-arctic environments,
particularly glaciers. Their home base during this time is Fear
Base, originally an early warning station designed to guard against
a preemptive Russian nuclear attack that was decommissioned in the
late 1950s. While conducting research on a glacier near Fear Base,
Marshall and his team come upon a staggering discovery --- two
eyeballs peeking out at them from the icy encasement of one of the
glacier’s volcanic caves. Could this specimen be a frozen
beast that perished thousands of years earlier?
Fear Base is manned year-round by a skeleton crew of U.S.
military personnel. Once word of Marshall’s find is received
by the medial conglomerate that is funding and sponsoring the
research expedition, things take a surprising turn. Fear Base is
almost immediately infiltrated by a large group made of both
corporate executives and a full documentary film crew. Their
intervention, much to the surprise of Marshall and his team,
involves a plan to bring the ice-encased animal specimen to the
Base and thaw it out on live television. Marshall and company are
obviously concerned about this from a scientific standpoint but are
bullied into submission by their corporate sponsors.
Leading the film team is award-winning documentary filmmaker
Emilio Conti (a character who reminded me of real-life
documentarian Werner Herzog in his recent film, Encounters at
the End of the World). Conti and his team will stop at nothing
to document this historic scientific event and interject themselves
rudely into the process by claiming rights to all the scientific
research Marshall’s crew has uncovered. Since this is a
Lincoln Child thriller, the reader just knows something will go
Prior to the film team arriving, the residents of Fear Base were
visited by a small group of Tunits led by Usuguk. They warn that
the ancient gods have been angered and that the wrath of the beast
known as Kurrshuq, the Devourer of Souls, will be put upon them
unless they leave immediately. The old shaman further warns them
with the incantation, “Their wrath paints the sky with blood.
The heaven cries out with the pain.” The team and military
personnel do not know what to make of this, and they watch the
Tunit group leave in haste. Could Usuguk’s warning have been
an explanation for the strange, red spectral patterns that have
been filling the Northern sky at night?
No one is able to make any connection to the Tunit warning and
the discovery except for one individual, Jeremy Logan, who arrived
with the semi-truck that brought the film crew’s equipment
and trailer. Logan is much more than an “ice trucker,”
revealing himself to be a professor of medieval history at Yale.
Dr. Logan has done some research on Fear Base and tells
Marshall’s team about a report filed away by a former base
commander about a scientific team that died abruptly over a two-day
period in April 1958. Only one person from that ill-fated group was
said to have made it out alive, and Logan has plans to find the
truth behind that expedition.
As expected, the live telecast of the specimen’s thawing
never happens because it has suddenly disappeared. Conti and his
corporate sponsors immediately feel that this was an act of
sabotage and turn their suspicion to the scientific team. Their
suspicions are soon thwarted as members of the Fear Base group
begin to disappear themselves --- only to have their bloody remains
found by others. Their worst fears have not been realized, as the
specimen is somehow alive and hunting them. The beast is of unknown
origin and a two-ton killing machine with horrific features and
razor-sharp mandibles. Marshall heads out to the Tunit camp to find
Usuguk and bring him back to Fear Base in an attempt to help them
understand and stop this ancient beast from killing everyone.
It is at this point that the novel becomes a non-stop thrill
ride as the group’s number is reduced one by one by this
seemingly unstoppable beast. Lincoln Child, on his own and as
co-author with Douglas Preston, has consistently turned out
engaging thrillers that are well-researched and grounded in some
scientific or historical premise. I found TERMINAL FREEZE to be a
little less intensive than some of his previous work and, despite
the title, felt it was a quick read better suited as a “beach
book.” In any event, the novel does not fail to entertain and
hopefully will be given the Hollywood film treatment like his first
bestseller, THE RELIC.
Reviewed by Ray Palen on January 23, 2011