Monday, June 22, 2015

Review: The Atlantis Gene, by A. G. Riddle

A. G. Riddle's The Atlantis Gene is one of those rare indie success stories in the book publishing world, a first time author whose book just exploded in sales out of nowhere. And now the movie rights have been picked up by CBS. Pretty cool. The biggest reason it's such a success, I would guess, is that it's actually pretty good. It touches on improbable conspiracy theories, blends history with adventure, creates a semi-romance that has some chemistry, and fires it all off in rapid-fire chapters. Sure it's uneven - the mark of a new writer - but the parts that work greatly outweigh those that don't. And while many readers will probably scoff at the use of 9/11 conspiracy, it's difficult to deny the draw of the apocalyptic plot. Riddle disarms his readers with his intensive research while simultaneously making eyes roll with improbable action - and that's all part of the book's charm.

The story rotates between many, many perspectives, but the two main characters are David Vale and Kate Warner. David Vale is an operative within a secret organization called Clocktower. Clocktower has been corrupted, however, by an even larger corporation called Immari, which hides its dirty work behind the veil of some of its many branches, such as research and security. Both of these organizations have branches all around the world, thus the novel's initial setting of Jakarta, Indonesia. Kate Warner is a researcher for Immari. Her research involves finding a cure for autism, and Jakarta's massive population and lax regulations make it an ideal place to do this research. Riddle sets up lab testing on human beings as a lesser of two evils. Autistic children in Jakarta are treated like prison inmates (at least as far as Riddle portrays it), so Kate and her fellow researchers see themselves as doing good. Little does Kate know that her employers have other ideas for her research. Two autistic children from Kate's lab are kidnapped, setting in motion Immari's evil plot.

The early parts of the novel make use of lots of action. David is a very skilled operative, evading Immari and rescuing Kate from their clutches - twice. Blended with this is a lot of talk about the early evolution of mankind. A volcanic eruption on the island of Java, what is deemed the Toba Catastrophe, nearly wiped out the homo sapiens species. For some reason this catastrophe also triggered an evolutionary response that led homo sapiens to drive the other human species to extinction. The trigger of this evolutionary response is at the heart of Riddle's story. Of course, Riddle is not on a scientific mission to solve the mystery/theory of the Toba Catastrophe. He is merely using it as a plot point. The villains in the novel, Dorian Sloane and Mallory Craig, seem to have a good idea of what caused it - a species called the Atlanteans, whose city was submerged in water tens of thousands of years ago.

What's at stake is humanity itself. Immari, we learn, is leading a terrorist attack called the Toba Protocol, which is meant to wipe out most of humanity in order to trigger another evolutionary response. A lot of things that happen in this book will make you cringe and roll your eyes. David explains how Immari is an organization that is tens of thousands of years old and that they were behind the 9/11 attacks instead of Al-Qaeda. Right. David and Kate will fight off hordes of trained soldiers. David will get shot, a lot. There's also a secret weapon shaped like a bell that melts people. The first half of this book is pretty laughable, but it's also hard to put down. But it's the second half that gets surprisingly good. While the events that happen aren't probable, they are, at least, believable. Plus, Riddle does a great job of tying up plot threads and enlightening readers on why things happen way they do.

Riddle's novel will likely remind you of Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, with its secret societies and improbable conspiracies. His writing style is reminiscent of Dean Koontz, whose novels move so fast you almost don't have time to stop and think. Most of Riddle's chapters end in a flash, and news reports ingeniously fill in some exposition. As fast-paced as the novel is, there are parts that get heavily bogged down in detail and action. This is true at the start and in the middle. Surprisingly it's the discovery of a diary that helps turn the novel from a mediocre work to something better. The novel introduces a new perspective, from 1918, and a new narrative, one that is much more believable and compelling than the main narrative. Yet, this narrative helps elevate the main narrative (that is, after some silly action scenes involving hot air balloons). As more and more mysteries are unlocked, the novel grows more and more compelling. And then you reach the end. Yes, this book is silly, ridiculous, and at times just plain unrealistic, but it's also a lot of fun.

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