Black Order: A Sigma Force Novel
Released on 06.07.2006
In Copenhagen...a suspicious bookstore fire propels Commander Gray Pierce on a relentless hunt across four continents - and into a terrifying mystery surrounding horrific experiments once performed in a now-abandoned laboratory buried in a hollowed-out mountain in Poland.
In the mountains of Nepal...in a remote monastery, Buddhist monks inexplicably turn to cannibalism and torture - while Painter Crowe, director of Sigma Force, begins to show signs of the same baffling, mind-destroying malady...and Lisa Cummings, a dedicated American doctor, becomes the target of a brutal, clandestine assassin.
Now only Gray Pierce and Sigma Force can save a world suddenly in terrible jeopardy. Because a new order is on the rise - an annihilating nightmare growing at the heart of the greatest mystery of all: the origin of life.
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The globetrotting adventurers of Sigma Force, that elite American special-ops team, return in this high-powered thriller. The story begins cryptically. In Nepal, a strange plague has struck a remote Himalayan monastery, and a Nazi swastika is found on a cave wall. In Denmark, someone is buying up rare historical documents connected to Victorian scientists (for instance, Charles Darwin's family Bible), and the purchaser is desperate enough to kill for his prizes.
In South Africa, a mythological beast is apparently alive and well and preying on wildlife. The author interweaves these stories, following the Sigma Force team members as they risk their lives to get to the heart of one of humankind's greatest mysteries: the origins of life itself.
Rollins keeps getting better with every novel, and his fast-paced thrillers are feasts for the imagination. Why Hollywood hasn't snapped his books up yet is a mystery, but it's doubtful any big-screen version could capture the author's gung-ho enthusiasm and intellectual curiosity. If you like all-stops-out, high-concept adventure, this one's for you. — David Pitt, Booklist
Black Order stirred up questions about faith and science, genetic experimentation, and little-known aspects of 20th century history. Here are some questions from the media and readers on these topics.
Q: In this era of new enemies, why...Nazis?
A: This came about from an article about developing quantum computers. Only lately - in the past decade - have practical applications been drawn from the fields of quantum physics. Yet, the initial theories arose back at the turn of the century, from the work of Max Planck, the father of quantum theory. Almost simultaneously, Einstein was formulating his theory of relativity. So why did Einstein's theories lead so quickly to the first atomic bomb, yet it's taken until today to seek out practical, real-world applications for quantum theory?
One answer is the Nazis.
During WWII, the Nazis were late at developing any atomic weaponry because they placed less credence on the theories of Einstein - as he was a Jew. Instead, they pursued a different track, one supported by someone with solid roots in the German Fatherland: Max Planck's quantum theory. And some of the newest historical research suggests that the Nazis, buried in secret bunkers, had achieved some significant and amazing successes. But to reveal those now would ruin many of the surprises in Black Order.
Q: As a man of science with deeply-rooted spiritual beliefs, how did you grapple with the faith vs. science controversy that is woven into the very core of this novel?
A: I was raised Roman Catholic and attended Catholic school until my high school years. While fundamentalist Christians seem to have a problem balancing faith and science, especially when it comes to the debate concerning Evolution and Creationism (or Intelligent Design), the Vatican has never seen a problem balancing these two extremes. Evolution is advocated and taught at all Catholic schools and universities as a biological and real force, leaving the creation of the soul to God.
It is this balance I've always tried to maintain in my life and endeavors, including the debates waged in Black Order. And while I personally believe that morality must be balanced with the pursuit of science - whether it be regulations against animal cruelty or such atrocities as human experimentation by the Nazis - I firmly abhor the present attempts to shackle scientific thought and research on the basis of religious belief. To declare certain lines of research as to be sacrosanct because of religious dogma will only stifle what makes America great - and that's our continual pursuit of new frontiers, both geographically and scientifically. To strangle that is to cripple progress.
I believe, like many scientists, both now and through the ages, that balance can be achieved. It was even Einstein who said "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
Q: Do you anticipate any debates arising in response to the controversial theories of Evolution andCreationism (and your personal take on Intelligent Design) set forth in Black Order?
A: I heard rumblings from several colleagues in the field of evolutionary biology (one of my studies in college). All know my personal stand that evolution is well supported and a real force in nature. As a veterinarian, trained in the anatomy and physiology of a wide range of animals, from tarantulas to horses, I've had my hands deep in the stuff of life. To me, evolution was as plain as the difference between a Chihuahua and a Great Dane. In fact, one of the reasons I began formulating this novel was an objection against the trend to stifle scientific thought, specifically the banning at certain IMAX theaters of films that portray evolution in a positive light.
So it has come as a shock to many at the conclusions I've reached in Black Order, employing some of the cutting edges of scientific thought, specifically along the lines of quantum physics. And I welcome any debate on the matter. It is only through such deliberations - heated and otherwise - that new ideas can be forged.
Q: In layman's terms, describe your theory of Darwinism vs. Quantum evolution.
A: From my research into both sides of the debate, I came across a unique theory: one advocating how the study of subatomic particles sheds new light on the mechanism of evolution, a mechanism beyond natural selection. It delves into the little-explored border between solid reality that we can touch and see and the fuzzy paradoxical world of electrons, protons, and neutrons. Which begs the question:where is the line between chemistry and life itself?
At its simplest (and for further details and elaboration my source material is listed at the back of the novel), new support has arisen that it is the environment itself that draws order out of chaos - first a replicating protein out of the primordial soup, then life from chemistry, then even human consciousness out of the darkness. But in Black Order, I take this theory - that basically supports evolution - one step further and reveal the possible true face of God.
Q: How may scientists respond to the concept of prayer-influenced evolution?
A: I hope with an open mind. When it comes to scientific progress, debate is healthy for the generation of new ideas. It must not be stifled - either by those who hold deeply religious beliefs or those who latch onto scientific dogma to the exclusion of all else. Both are equally as damaging to the process.
And when it comes to human consciousness, science still struggles to discover its full secret. Is our brain really some form of quantum computer? Where is the line between the gray matter of our brain and the human soul? And why did it form? The theory proposed within the pages of Black Order offers a possible solution, one that is already gaining credence among neurologists and other scientists. Within the pages, I offer a way to explain scientifically how prayer works - and in such a way, I can think of no better way of balancing faith and science.
Q. Why are scientists - and why is society - so obsessed with the idea of a master race (as with the Sonnekönige or "super men" profiled in Black Order)?
A: I think this goes back to the debate about evolution. We don't understand it fully - and what we don't understand, we try to control. Some of the newest research suggests that human evolution is still continuing that the human species already shows marked changes at the genetic level. This is both a hopeful and vaguely frightening thought. If we are not done evolving, where might it lead? Such questions are also discussed inBlack Order- along with possible answers.
Q: You've dedicated much of your career to the health, healing and well-being of animals. How do you, as a veterinarian, feel about the genetic experimentation that is one of the foundations of Black Order's plot?
A: Well, with my background as a veterinarian and animal advocate, that's probably not difficult to guess. I think our own humanity can be judged by how well we care for those who depend on us.
Q: Black Order is partially set in Germany and Map of Bones starts in Cologne. You sound familiar with these places and you seem to know Cologne quite well. Have you ever been there?
A: Yes. I was an exchange student in Germany during high school. I spent a summer in southern Germany (around Freiburg) and in northern Germany (in Jever). And I had a chance to explore several cities in between. I've been back several times since.
Q: There's a lot of violence in the Sigma books. Please don't get me wrong here, that is something that draws the reader to the books, but is the violence justified?
A: It's hard to write adventure without some violence. And yes, sometimes it does take fire to fight a fire. But what I also like to do in my novels is to get into the heads of the villains of the piece, to explore their own justifications. Because even a villain is a hero in his or her own mind. I love to take a reader on an arc from hating the villains, to understanding them, to perhaps being even upset when they're killed. If I can pull that off, I've done my job well.
Q: The Sigma Force novels offer fast-paced action adventure to the reader. How did you come up with your very own mixture of military-action, adventure, and mystery?
A: I think it goes back to my pulp roots. Those old scientific adventures blended mystery, cutting-edge technology, and wild action. And that's what I'm doing today, just putting a modern spin and polish on those old pulp adventures.
Q: Speaking of characters, Gray Pierce's unwanted sidekick Fiona developed into an engaging character in Black Order. Will we see more of her in future Sigma novels?
A: If you recall, one of the main characters in Black Order is Lisa Cummings, who you first met in Deep Fathom. Joe Kowalski was a minor character in Ice Hunt. Turns out, he was the perfect character for a short story in Thriller, an anthology which James Patterson edited. (The story is called "Kowalski's in Love.") Imagine my surprise when he showed up to help out in The Last Oracle. I have a track record of reprising good characters. All I can say about Fiona is ... keep reading.
Q: Breakneck thrillers are traditionally snapped up by male readers - but you have a huge female following. Women have been gobbling up your every word since your publishing debut a decade ago. In one man's humble opinion - what's the appeal?
A: For decades, the male action hero has dominated the domain of adventure thrillers. The role of women was relegated to the damsel in distress or the romantic foil. In my novels, I've always attempted to even the playing field, to create strong female characters that are as integral to the resolution of the central conflict as any of the men. Yet, at the same time, I don't ignore the dynamism of such a relationship, both physically and emotionally. What is an adventure without a thread of romantic conflict? It's the stuff of great story!
Q: In your Author's Note: Truth or Fiction, at the end of Black Order, you question, "Where are we headed?" So...where are we headed?
A: I don't think progress can ever be truly stopped - it is as inexorable as evolution itself. As I mentioned above, our exploration of quantum theories is beginning to open doorways leading to new advances. Like the quantum computer, for one. But more than that, it's opening doorways deep into the past, going back to the origin of life, to the first spark of all. And as much as this is a journey inward, it's equally a journey outward, toward the universe as a whole. I think we're heading into one of the most exciting times - where science will push boundaries, where our humanity will be tested, and where new frontiers will open.