Released on 07.23.2004
The Explosive first adventure in James Rollins’ bestselling Sigma Force series!
A freak explosion in the British museum in London ignites a perilous race for an earth-shaking power source buried deep beneath the sands of history. Painter Crowe is an agent for Sigma Force, a covert arm of the Defense Department tasked with keeping dangerous scientific discoveries out of enemy hands. When an ancient artifact points the way toward the legendary “Atlantis of the Sands,” Painter must travel across the world in search of the lost city–and a destructive power beyond imagining.
But Painter has competition. A band of ruthless mercenaries, led by a former friend and ally, are also intent on claiming the prize, and they will destroy anyone who gets in their way.
Ancient history collides with cutting-edge science–with the safety of the world at stake!
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Fire and Rain
November 14, 01:33 A.M.
The British Museum
Harry Masterson would be dead in thirteen minutes
If he had known this, he would’ve smoked his last cigarette down to the filter. Instead he stamped out the fag after only three drags and waved the cloud from around his face. If he was caught smoking outside the guards’ break room, he would be shit-canned by that bastard Fleming, head of museum security. Harry was already on probation for coming in two hours late for his shift last week.
Harry swore under his breath and pocketed the stubbed cigarette. He’d finish it at his next break...that is, if they got a break this night.
Thunder echoed through the masonry walls. The winter storm had struck just after midnight, opening with a riotous volley of hail, followed by a deluge that threatened to wash London into the Thames. Lightning danced across the skies in forked displays from one horizon to another. According to the weatherman on the Beeb, it was one of the fiercest electrical storms in over a decade. Half the city had been blacked out, overwhelmed by a spectacular lightning barrage.
And as fortune would have it for Harry, it was his half of the city that went dark, including the British Museum on Great Russell Street. Though they had backup generators, the entire security team had been summoned for additional protection of the museum’s property. They would be arriving in the next half hour. But Harry, assigned to the night shift, was already on duty when the regular lights went out. And though the video surveillance cameras were still operational on the emergency grid, he and the shift were ordered by Fleming to proceed with an immediate security sweep of the museum’s two and a half miles of halls.
That meant splitting up.
Harry picked up his electric torch and aimed it down the hall. He hated doing rounds at night, when the museum was lost in gloom. The only illumination came from the streetlamps outside the windows. But now, with the blackout, even those lamps had been extinguished. The museum had darkened to macabre shadows broken by pools of crimson from the low-voltage security lamps.
Harry had needed a few hits of nicotine to steel his nerve, but he could put off his duty no longer. Being the low man on the night shift's pecking order, he had been assigned to run the halls of the north wing, the farthest point from their underground security nest. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t take a shortcut. Turning his back on the long hall ahead, he crossed to the door leading into the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court.
This central two-acre court was surrounded by the four wings of the British Museum. At its heart rose the great copper-domed Round Reading Room, one of the world’s finest libraries. Overhead, the entire two-acre courtyard had been enclosed by a gigantic Foster and Partners-designed geodesic roof, creating Europe’s largest covered square.
Using his passkey, Harry ducked into the cavernous space. Like the museum proper, the court was lost to darkness. Rain pattered against the glass roof far overhead. Still, Harry’s footsteps echoed across the open space. Another lance of lightning shattered across the sky. The roof, divided into a thousand triangular panes, lit up for a blinding moment. Then darkness drowned back over the museum, drumming down with the rain.
Thunder followed, felt deep in the chest. The roof rattled, too. Harry ducked a bit, fearing the entire structure would come crashing down.
With his electric torch pointed forward, he crossed the court, heading for the north wing. He rounded past the central Reading Room. Lightning flashed again, brightening the place for a handful of heartbeats. Giant statues, lost to the darkness, appeared as if from nowhere. The Lion of Cnidos reared beside the massive head of an Easter Island statue. Then darkness sw allowed the guardians away as the lightning died out.
Harry felt a chill and pebbling of gooseflesh.
His pace hurried. He swore under his breath with each step, "Bleeding buggered pieces of crap ... " His litany helped calm him.
He reached the doors to the north wing and ducked inside, greeted by the familiar mix of mustiness and ammonia. He was grateful to have solid walls around him again. He played his torch down the long hall. Nothing seemed amiss, but he was required to check each of the wing’s galleries. He did a fast calculation. If he hurried, he could complete his circuit with enough time for another fast smoke. With the promise of a nicotine fix luring him, he set off down the hall, the beam of his torch preceding him.
The north wing had become host to the museum’s anniversary showcase, an ethnographical collection portraying a complete picture of human achievement down the ages, spanning all cultures. Like the Egyptian gallery with its mummies and sarcophagi. He continued hurriedly, ticking off the various cultural galleries: Celtic, Byzantine, Russian, Chinese. Each suite of rooms was locked down by a security gate. With the loss of power, the gates had dropped automatically.
At last, the hall’s end came into sight.
Most of the galleries’ collections were only temporarily housed here, transferred from the Museum of Mankind for the anniversary celebration. But the end gallery had always been here, for as far back as Harry could recall. It housed the museum’s Arabian display, a priceless collection of antiquity from across the Arabian Peninsula. The gallery had been commissioned and paid for by one family, a family grown rich by its oil ventures in that region. The donations to keep such a gallery in permanent residence at the British Museum was said to top five million pounds per annum.
One had to respect that sort of dedication.
The foregoing is excerpted from Sandstorm by James Rollins. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022.
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From Publishers Weekly
If he weren't such a good action writer, Rollins might make a dynamite climatologist. Each of his thrillers has featured as a central character an extreme environment, most recently the Arctic ice (Ice Hunt, 2003) and now the hot sands of Saudi Arabia. But while Rollins writes settings and scenes that sizzle, what's caught in the heat are usually familiar characters grappling with far-fetched threats, and so it is here. That one male lead is a danger-courting archeologist named Omaha Dunn seems less parodic than tired, and the novel's premise of a hoard of antimatter hidden in the legendary city of Ubar is almost as ridiculous as the idea that this cache has been guarded for millennia by an order of women who propagate without men, via parthenogenesis. Rollins writes less like Michael Crichton than Stan Lee. Most of his readers won't care, though, because there's just enough scientific gloss on the nonsense to make it palatable, and anyway, what they want, and what he delivers, is action, as Omaha and an American military agent, Painter, join forces with two Mideastern women, one a scientist, the other a billionaire, to locate the steadily destabilizing antimatter before it's snatched by a villainous cabal, or worse, blows up the planet. And that's why they'll buy this book in numbers big enough to have it flirt with national bestseller lists.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
from BOOKLIST 2006 Barry Award nominee for Best Thriller
"This novel about an ancient secret society and the race to find priceless antiquities is sure to be compared to Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, but, in every way, it's a much better book. Where Brown's best-seller was predictable despite its compelling premise, this tale is clever and suspenseful."
Sandstorm sparked a flurry of questions about science and mythology. Here are some of the things readers have been interested in:
Q: First of all, why Ubar? Where does your fascination for the Atlantis of the Sands come from?
A:Being an armchair archaeologist, I'm always fascinated by bits of history that end in a question mark. That's where I love to center stories around. I had heard of Ubar, the lost city of the Arabian sands, a city that is the Koran's equivalent to Sodom and Gomorrah. I knew there was a story there. According to the Koran, the city was populated by wizards and other evil men, and God eventually destroyed the city and buried it under the sands. For the longest time, Ubar was considered just a mythological place....until an amateur archaeologist discovered its existence using ground-penetrating radar and extensive study of the region.
Q: What was your main source of inspiration? Maybe The Road to Ubar by Nicholas Clapp?
A:Exactly. The Road to Ubar tells the story of that amateur archaeologist and how he discovered the buried city. The place was eventually excavated and can be visited today. The fate of the city was also revealed during this archaeological dig. In ancient times, a giant sinkhole had opened up under the city and swallowed half the town. It was taken as a warning from God and the place was abandoned by its superstitious inhabitants. Eventually the desert sands swept back over the city, and it vanished into history and mythology. But is there more to the story? You'll have to read Sandstorm to find out.
Q: How do you choose your subjects? Do you have an idea of the era or to pic you want to explore and then come up with a plot and characters, or is it the other way around?
A:I have a cardboard file box at home where I toss articles and handwritten notes that I collect from reading magazines: National Geographic, Scientific American, Discover, Science, etc. Whenever I read something that makes me wonder “What if....?" it goes into the box. The box is not organized, it's messy. Somewhere down at the bottom there are probably mice nesting. But I love that chaos. Strange and intriguing bits end up next to each other in the box, things I would not have connected together on my own, but the pure randomness of the contents of the box bring them together, and I begin to see how they might connect. Sometimes those connections become stories. At that point, I begin to visualize who might be involved in such a story, and the plot starts to grow.
Q: Have you ever visited The Arabian Peninsula? If so, what were your impressions?
A:I have, and I desperately want to go back. The landscape is so striking and varied, from its lush gardens trickling with waterfalls to its vast stretches of wind-swept dunes. But more than anything, it's the entire region's mix of history and mythology, religion and superstition, the ancient and the modern. With every step, this strange dichotomy calls out to you....and for a writer, it is pure magic.
Q: In Sandstorm you combine elements of myths with science. What issues are you most passionate about? Legends of the past or new technologies?
A:Both. Technology all by itself is not that interesting. What I find fascinating about new technology is how it challenges a society, physically and morally. Such as with cloning or stem cell research or something we have yet to imagine. That's the fodder for great storytelling. And societies don't form out of a vacuum. Their foundations are based on a history that is oftentimes equal part fact and fiction. Blend these two ingredients, and some great stories emerge that reflect who we are, where we came from, and most importantly where we are heading.
Q: How much of you is in the character of Painter Crowe?
A:There are parts of me in all the characters – good and bad. I also borrow traits from friends and family, from people I meet and talk to. I'm always looking for quirks that really flesh out a character. As to Painter Crowe, I think he's more of who I would want to be, than necessarily who I am. But that's one of joys of writing – or reading – for a time, you can be that character.
Q: The mass market edition of Sandstorm had an amazing cover. How did they do that?
A:My publishers deserve credit for breaking barriers with the mass market editions of my books. With my first book, Subterranean, my publishers took a chance by developing a multiple step-back cover – the first of its kind. They pulled out all the stops when releasing Sandstorm with a lenticular holographic cover, employing a new patented technology. As a writer who delves into new sciences, what could be more gratifying?