I am hiding in my basement office and may never come out. The reason I am sequestering myself is a book that I just finished reading titled ANCESTOR. Scott Sigler is near the top of my personal “must read” list based on his two previous works, INFECTED and CONTAGIOUS, which more than any other novels of recent memory have been responsible for my purchasing and using a nightlight and taking a daily shower in rubbing alcohol. ANCESTOR may well keep me in the house permanently and transform me into a vegetarian.
The problem is that I live in a semi-rural area. Anytime I want to see cows, I can just jump in my car and within three minutes I’ll be in bovine heaven. That’s not a good thing anymore. Not after ANCESTOR. I guarantee you won’t think about cows, steaks, hamburger, or organ transplants in the same way again after reading it.
I know, it’s just a book. Sigler, though, writes as if he is channeling a collaboration between Stephen King and Michael Crichton, as edited by H.G. Wells. He is smart and terrifying. Accordingly, when he lays an outlaw science laboratory on a large island off of Michigan in the middle of a godforsaken winter, you not only believe it but also know that something is going to go horrifyingly wrong. So what’s up with all this? Simple. We need organs. There aren’t enough donors, and demand keeps outstripping supply (and exponentially so). And then, of course, there is the problem with donor-recipient rejection. Accordingly, the good folks (and there aren’t many of them) at a company named Genada assemble a team of geneticists to reverse-engineer the mammalian genome to recreate the common progenitor of all mammals, artificially inseminating cows and using them as surrogates (Sigler explains the reasons for this much better than I am able).
When a disaster at another company’s laboratory leads to a government shutdown of all such projects, Genada goes dark and rogue, and sends the entire project --- lab and all --- to that isolated island near Michigan. The worst happens: the experiment is successful. As anyone who has ever been to a multi-generational family reunion soon learns, we all reach a point where we are better off not meeting who we come from. And in ANCESTOR, who we come from is born big, hungry and angry. And, unfortunately, very smart.
For those of us who actually like being scared so badly that we read this type of literature, even if we’re hiding under the bed with a flashlight while doing so, there is more good news. Sigler, if you are among the dwindling minority who have never read his work, is a heck of a writer. He is gifted with the ability of explaining complex topics in an interesting, understandable and even entertaining manner, creates memorable characters who are likable and otherwise, and keeps the pace of the narrative moving so quickly that the pages should be soaked in flame retardant.
Let me put it another way: this is one of those rare books that makes me wish that I could be stricken with selective amnesia, so that I could read it anew again. Oh, and did I mention that Sigler has a sequel to ANCESTOR in the works? So don’t be behind the curve: read ANCESTOR. Before it comes true.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010