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Story Time Review by
Paul V. Wargelin
by James Rollins
PB - Harper
ISBN: 0 38079264 8

James Rollins' SUBTERRANEAN is a solid mainstream novel. An action-packed adventure with a touch of romance, a mystery to solve, and a link to the supernatural. It contains all the elements of a summer blockbuster film.

A team of scientists - paleoanthropologist/archeologist Ashley Carter, biologist Linda Furstenburg, geologist Khalid Najmon, and cave explorer Ben Brust - are recruited by the U.S. Government to explore a series of caverns discovered beneath Mt. Erebus just off the coast of Antarctica. The remains of a cave dwelling civilization has been discovered.

With a military escort, the team descends from Alpha Base into this underworld labyrinth only to disturb the creatures who reside there. It isn' t long before the team is separated, wounded, and fighting for their lives against ten-foot tall hungry reptilian-like beasts with crocodile-shaped heads, lots of teeth and claws, and move like JURASSIC PARK's velociraptors.

Meantime Alpha Base is seized in a coup by the army (cliché alert: military vs. science) but is soon overrun by the crak'an. This leaves Dr. Blakely-who gathered the science team-and Ashley's young son Jason (who she just had to bring along) fleeing into the caverns for safety.

Fortunately, Ben has aboriginal blood in his ancestry. With his dead grandfather acting as a spiritual guide, Ben and Ashley encounter the mimi' swee, a primitive proto-human race with marsupial and reptilian characteristics (they lay eggs AND carry their young in pouches) known as monotremes (in Ashley's words "an evolutionary dead end").

Ben is also able to communicate telepathically with Mo'amba, the mimi'swee medicine man. He is their only ally among the tribe, who believe the humans responsible for their near extinction. And only with Mo'amba's help can Ben and Ashley escape and rescue Jason.

This is a RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK type adventure. The most fascinating aspects of SUBTERRANEAN are the mimi'swee and the crak'an, especially as Ashley and Linda discuss the possible evolutions of these species.

The story is pretty straight forward as are the motivations of the characters. There's a romance between Ben and Ashley, but the real characterization is given to the supporting players: Linda is claustrophobic, pushed beyond her endurance, yet finding strength to move on; Blakely's paper pusher persona is hiding a hero beneath it; and Major Dennis Michaelson, one of the team's army escorts, is determined to find his brother who disappeared with the previous exploration team.

Collins has a gift for characterization and storytelling. If you can retain your suspension of disbelief and ignore the clichés (the most jarring is a traitor among the group who's fanaticism for completing his mission is never thrown off even when confronted with man-eating beasts), you'll find SUBTERRANEAN a fun read.

Three BookWyrms.


This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.

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