In a post in August, It’s mostly insubstantial, I discussed an interview with James Rollins that I read on Sciencethrillers.com. The title for my post came from some mind-blowing conversations Rollins described with quantum physicists while researching his latest thriller, The Eye of God. The gist of what Rollins learned involved the insubstantial nature of our apparently solid physical world. “If you remove all the space within the atoms making up the human body, every person that’s ever lived would fit inside a baseball,” said physicist, Brian Greene.
I heard Rollins speak in September at a writer’s lunch where he gave a lively talk on the nuts and bolts of his process. Afterwards, I hurried home with a copy of The Eye of God. Sadly, I didn’t finish the book until this week. It doesn’t speak well for a thriller when it takes me weeks to “get through” it.
The book opens with a compelling synchronicity between the discovery of an ancient prophecy and the last transmission of a NASA satellite nicknamed “The Eye of God,” launched to study a comet as it passes close to earth. Before it crashes, the satellite transmits an image of the eastern United States as a ruin of smoking craters.
Astrophysicist, Dr. Jada Shaw, theorizes that dark matter associated with the comet is bending time as well as space in the atmosphere, and the image shows our world in four days time. Simultaneously, a priest in the Vatican receives a package containing a copy of The Gospel of Thomas, bound in human skin, and a skull inscribed with prophecy of the end of the world in four days.
Soon Dr. Shaw, the priest and his niece, and members of the Sigma Force, a covert group of ex-special forces soldiers, converge on Mongolia, where the Eye of God went down. An asteroid storm in Antarctica is a prelude to what is coming if the satellite can’t be recovered and if it offers no clue to reversing the space-time distortion that is opening earth’s atmosphere to deadly “near-earth objects.” Integral to the effort is a legendary black cross, made from an earlier NEO that struck earth. The cross belonged to St. Thomas the Apostle, who evangelized in Asia, according to the apocryphal “Acts of Thomas” and ancient Christian communities in southern India.
So what’s not to like about the story?
I enjoyed elements of The Eye of God, not the least, an appendix in which Rollins’ discussed what was fact and what was fiction in the book, including a real comet that will pass near the earth this winter.
If it doesn’t break up as it swings by the sun, Comet ISON, one of the brightest comets in history, will pass so close to the earth in November and December that it may be visible during the day.
My biggest problem with The Eye of God is that I never truly felt the danger. The threat was arcane and not clearly articulated until midway through the book. The solution (which I won’t give away) remained rather abstract. The constant reminders of danger and the way out that we find in other page-turners would have helped, as would the disaster film convention of showing a few ordinary people who don’t yet know they are doomed.
Rather than keeping us focused on the real threat, restating it until it was vivid, Rollins threw in distracting subplots which included six major gunfights with Chinese triads, North Korean soldiers, and Mongolian nationalists. Obstacles while the clock is ticking is a proven way to ramp up tension, but the repetitive nature of these firefights – bad guys who can’t shoot versus outnumbered, crack-shot good guys – was the equivalent of digital special effects at the expense of story in the movies.
The Eye of God received good reviews, especially from established fans of James Rollins. That may be the difference. This is the ninth Sigma Force novel, and those who read the others are probably bonded with the characters and care more than I if they get shot at. Next time I read this author, I’ll start at the beginning, though I don’t think that will be any time soon.