Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Written by Scott Sigler
Published by Crown Publishing
In high school I sucked at math. I still hate it, and I’m pretty sure it’s a tool of the Devil. But I loved science. I did amazingly well, and several of my teachers encouraged me to pursue a career in the science field. I decided not to (don’t ask me why now), but I have never lost my fascination with the subject. So when I first read the synopsis for Scott Sigler’s novel Ancestor (then only available via podcast), I was automatically intrigued.
Ancestor is about Genada, a corporation desperate to win the race to breed a herd of animals with organs capable of being transplanted successfully into humans, and its team of genius scientists – Claus Rhumkorrf, who is hungry for fame and recognition of his brilliance; Liu Jiandan, sweet and deadly smart but severely unbalanced; and the feisty, unrelenting Erika Hoel. Their plan is to reverse engineer the genome for the common ancestor of all mammals and then implant that genome into the uterus of a cow. In theory their ideas work. But just as they make the breakthrough that could bring their idea into reality, another company working on the same problem accidentally manufactures a deadly species-jumping virus, and the US government puts a halt on all xenotransplantation research. Genada’s owners, brothers Dante and Magnus Paglione, aren’t willing to sacrifice what could be a multi-billion dollar discovery so they send the whole crew to a remote island in the Canadian Arctic to continue developing the "Ancestors".
Of course if everything went well and Genada managed to save thousands of lives and make tons of money and everyone lived happily ever after, then I wouldn’t be writing about it for this site, would I? No. They make a breakthrough all right, but pretty soon it’s clear that Jiandan’s genius may be greater when she’s off her meds, but her psychosis is as well, and the creatures she created are far deadlier than their bovine mothers.
While Scott obviously knows his science, and it shows, my favorite part of his books is the characters. Often in novels that are very plot driven, as Sigler’s stories tend to be, the characters you get are all of a piece. Not cookie-cutter exactly, but they’re all people with similar backgrounds and thoughts and beliefs and maybe only one foreign or different character in the bunch. But Ancestor’s cast of characters is varied: American ex-CIA agents, Chinese schizophrenics, Russian defectives, Canadian security officers who write sexy vampire romances, and German geneticists with massive egos just to name a few. And if you haven’t read any of Sigler’s other books, you should know ... no one is safe. In that regard Scott develops almost every character to the point that it matters when and if they bite it – or in this case, get bitten. Ancestor has characters that you love, hate, loathe, enjoy. and chuckle at ... sometimes a few of those attributes in one character!
Sigler’s writing style is very fast-paced and cinematic, and though the book clocks in at over 400 pages, it’s a fun and quick read. There were a few occasions where the wealth of science slowed down the thrill ride a bit, but as a science lover I enjoy how much research Sigler does and how finely crafted his story is to the actual science so I didn’t mind those parts. I would say, though, that as enjoyable and break-neck as the story is, it’s not one of those books where you can check your brain at the door. You need to be present and engaged, but if you are, the reality of the scientific bedrock beneath Ancestor will give you chills. Don’t believe me? Check out our interview with Scott, where we discuss the modern day scientific precursors to the things being done in Ancestor.
That being said, I don’t want to give the impression that Sigler only appeals to the brainiacs amongst us. Ancestor is full of violence, terror, explosions, and gore aplenty. One review I read likened Ancestor to a Syfy made-for-TV movie, and while I agree that the plot is similar to some Syfy outings, it’s a smarter, more well thought out and cohesive tale than I’ve ever seen on the puzzlingly renamed channel. If you like interesting characters, hard science, giant beasts, and crazed action, you’re going to want to honor the Ancestor asap!
4 out of 5
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