“At its thickest point, fog obscured the shore, but it was not the same frozen mist that hugged the seas and wrapped the surrounding bergs of ice. It was a sulfurous steam, a breath from Hades, rising out from a land as wondrous as it was monstrous.”
This is the tenth book in a series. This review contains no spoilers for previous books in the series, aside from giving away the survival of one character.
The Sixth Extinction, by James Rollins
#10 in the Sigma Force series
William Morrow, August 2014
426 pages (hardcover)
A military research station buried in the remote Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California broadcasts a frantic distress call that ends with a chilling order:
“This is sierra, victor, whiskey. There’s been a breach. Failsafe initiated. No matter the outcome: Kill us… kill us all.”
The site is part of TECOMM, the U.S. Army Test Command. When help arrives to investigate, they discover that everyone in the lab is dead – not just the scientists, but every living thing for fifty square miles is annihilated: every animal, plant, and insect, even bacteria. The land is completely sterile – and the blight is spreading.
Only one team on earth has the scientific knowledge and military precision to handle this mission: Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma. The dead scientists were working on a secret project, researching radically different forms of life on Earth, life that could change our understanding of biology and humanity itself. But something set off an explosion in the lab, and now Sigma must contend with the apocalyptic aftermath.
To prevent the inevitable, they must decipher a futuristic threat that rises out of the distant past – a time when Antarctica was green and life on Earth was balanced on a knife’s edge. Following a fascinating trail of clues buried in an ancient map rescued from the lost Library of Alexandria, Sigma will make a shocking discovery involving a prehistoric continent and a new form of life and death buried under miles of ice. Gray Pierce and his dedicated team must race through eons of time and across distant continents to decipher millennia-old secrets out of the frozen past and untangle mysteries buried deep in the darkest jungles of today, as they face their greatest challenge yet: stopping the sixth extinction – the end of humankind.
But is it already too late?
James Rollins writes great action adventures, but what really makes his series stand out from similar books are the characters. So it was a little disappointing to me that this one just felt a little… off. There was so much focus on the story, the science, and what it all means for humanity. But I didn’t feel like this was my familiar Sigma crew. It was as though any cast of characters could have been substituted in and the story would have remained the same.
This is true to an extent with a lot of these types of thrillers. People usually don’t read them for the characters, they read them for the exciting high-stakes plots. So yes, a lot of the time the stock characters can feel interchangeable. This is more forgivable in early books or stand-alones… less so after following a series for ten books.
The real strength of this book is the questions that it raises. What can we do to survive our own self-destruction? Do we even deserve to? Rollins, through his villain, goes to a pretty dark place when it comes to the future of our species, and while it’s scary to think about, it’s fascinating to read about in a fictional setting.
The Sixth Extinction is an entertaining novel, for sure. And the fact that it’s light on the character development could be a plus for new readers jumping into the series. For me, though, as a longtime fan, I felt it was lacking some of what made his previous books special.
Does The Sixth Extinction sound like something you’d pick up? How do you feel when a favorite author doesn’t quite live up to your expectations?