by James Rollins
(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)
Year published: 2007
Category: medical thriller; science thriller; series (#4)
Tech rating (out of 5):
The military brainiacs or “killer scientists” of the secret Sigma Force must save the world once again. This time their foe is a gruesome, disastrous plague, made worse, of course, by the nefarious global evildoers of The Guild. Constant action, fascinating settings, high stakes, ancient mysteries, daring and devotion—they’re all here. Read this on the beach and become a fan.
In The Judas Strain, Rollins delivers everything Sigma Force fans love. Sigma Force is Rollins’ fictional covert arm of the Department of Defense’s research and development division, DARPA. The characters who populate the series are ex-Special Forces members who are trained to the doctoral level in whatever technical field Rollins needs to resolve his outrageous plots. They’re tough, smart, and lucky, all excellent traits for heroes who are perpetually in danger and laboring against a countdown to the End of All Things.
In this installment of the series, we begin with Marco Polo in the year 1293, and the horrific secret he leaves on an island in Southeast Asia. Multiple plot lines carry the reader through the outbreak of a flesh-eating plague, the dispatch of a hospital ship which is subsequently hijacked by terrorists, a hunt for clues that leads to Venice, Istanbul, and Angkor Wat. All this is seasoned with unidentified traitors, sexy turncoats, zombies, cannibals, pirates, and the written language of angels.
Really, what more could you want?
Importantly, Rollins makes this seemingly random mishmash of elements work. You’ve gotta love his characters and you can’t help but be swept up in the action. His plots use a lot of real science and history—always a plus—that he sorts out a bit in an appendix for the reader. Note, however, that his imagination spins his stories beyond anything resembling a factual basis (hence my 4 biohazard rating instead of 5). My local library even files this book under science fiction.
One more tidbit: I strongly approve of the way Rollins portrays women in his stories. He strikes a good balance between indulging the necessary thriller stereotypes of sexy + smart with genuine respect for his women’s strengths and vulnerabilities. In my opinion, not many thriller writers get this right.
James Rollins’ Sigma Force series:
Sandstorm (2004); Map of Bones (2005); Black Order (2006); The Judas Strain (2007); The Last Oracle (2008); The Doomsday Key (2010); The Devil Colony (2011)