Author: Scott Sigler
Publisher: Dragon Moon Press, 2007
Pages: 288 pp.
Editor's note: Ancestor is currently out of print, but copies can be purchased through Amazon.com. Rumor has it that Crown will reprint it in 2010, after his next book Infected comes out. (It's currently due out in April.)
Back in the day, writers were encouraged to avoid the lure of the Internet, to not give their work away, and fear the possibility of people stealing their stories. Still, some authors such as John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow gave away their work, to great success.
When podcasting (serialized Internet audio) debuted, some authors decided to use the new medium to release their fiction. Scott Sigler was one of the first, with his horror book, Earthcore. The reception to this free book was overwhelmingly positive, with a listenership in the tens of thousands. It was a no-brainer to podcast his second book, Ancestor. His popularity got the attention of Dragon Moon Press, who published Earthcore, and released Ancestor in April, 2007.
In Ancestor, Sigler combines the dangerous elements of lofty good intentions with the epitome of corporate greed. Companies are vying to be the first to genetically reproduce a pure herd animal that has human-compatible organs. The scientists involved want to save lives and the corporations see enormous wealth to be created.
Ancestor takes place directly after one Greenland biotech facility is destroyed when a pig-borne virus escapes and wipes out all of the humans in the compound. International political machinery moves to shut down further testing, but the biotech firm Genada is close–
The team under Claus Rhumkorrf–
In his fiction Sigler can be just plain fun. The Paglione brothers have hired a pilot: Sara Purinam and her crew fly a tricked out C-5 to rescue their team. The plane is a traveling genetics lab complete with room for 50 cows and their offspring designed to grow human organs. They pack into the C-5 and run, knowing the CIA must be closing in.
While some research labs were using baboons and others (like the unfortunate Greenland lab) were using pigs, Genada feels the answer lies in cow DNA. What they are all trying to do is find the genetic code for the ancestor of all mammals, making them ideal carriers of organs compatible with humans. In Ancestor, the scientists are on the run. They head to a remote Great Lakes island to keep up their work.
They are, of course, driven by their zealous bosses, brothers Dante' and Magnus Paglione, whose concerns are more for money than mankind. Dante' is the businessman, a cold capitalist, but Magnus is the psychopath muscle, whose frightening method of self-mutilation helps him think.
Sigler keeps the pressure on: not only is there the threat of CIA spooks, but just prior to an attack from a mole in their organization, Jian finds the key to keeping the embryos viable inside their hosts. They implant, and the "ancestors" begin to grow.
Once the team lands the mobile lab on the island, the pace slows down but the suspense builds as the ancestors begin to grow–
One of Sigler's strengths in this book is his effortless weaving of POVs. While the book mainly tells the events through PJ Colding, a former CIA agent and employee of Genada, we also get Jian's view, her nightmares and her single-minded dedication to her work. We see the world through the idealistic eyes of Rhumkorrf, so assured that what they are doing is noble enough to take any risk. We understand how Magnus's self mutilation clears his head, and we experience Sara's growing doubts that the lives of her and her crew are worth the incredible salaries the Paglione brothers are paying her.
Sigler's pacing is ideal, fast when it needs to be and slow when things need to build. After the ancestors are born (very, very hungry), the book takes off and doesn't stop. Sigler delivers the final scenes of the book, which take place at a frenetic pace. Although the point of view shifts as fast as the story, nothing will confuse the reader.
There is a love story subplot between Sara and Colding which, while sweet, is overshadowed by the tales told by the caretaker of the Paglione's mansion on the island–
If I could have asked anything from Sigler, I would have wanted more plot twists. While I hesitate to use the harsh word "formulaic," not one plot twist surprised me. It is good to see bad guys get their due, but I would have enjoyed some surprises to go with that pleasure.
Ancestor doesn't make itself out to be anything more than a damn fun, bloody romp, with ravenous cow-spotted predators chasing you down to the last page. Sigler's prose is strong and his characters carry the book convincingly. And if you're unsure about buying, you can get it for free in audio or PDF form to first test the waters.
The bloody, frozen waters.