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Monday, June 23, 2008

"The Last Oracle" by James Rollins w/Bonus Q&A

Official James Rollins Website
Order “The Last Oracle
Read An Excerpt
Watch An Interview with James Rollins HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: James Rollins is the pen name of Jim Czajkowski and is the New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of “The Judas Strain”, “Black Order”, “Map of Bones” and many other adventure thrillers. Jim also writes fantasy under the pseudonym James ClemensThe Banned and the Banished, the Godslayer Chronicles—and recently penned the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie novelization. Jim is also a veterinarian in Northern California and can often be found underground or underwater as an amateur spelunker and scuba diver.

PLOT SUMMARY: In Washington, D.C., a homeless man dies in Commander Gray Pierce's arms, shot by an assassin's bullet. But the death leaves behind a greater mystery: a bloody coin found clutched in the dead man's hand, an ancient relic that can be traced back to the Greek Oracle of Delphi. As ruthless hunters search for the stolen artifact, Gray Pierce discovers that the coin is the key to unlocking a plot that dates back to the Cold War and involves bioengineered autistic children who possess savant talents—mathematical geniuses, statistical masterminds, brilliant conceptual artists…

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a man wakes up in a hospital bed with no memory of who he is, knowing only that he's a prisoner in a subterranean research facility. With the help of three unusual children and a chimpanzee, he makes his escape across a mountainous and radioactive countryside, pursued by savage hunters bred in the same laboratory. But his goal is not escape, nor even survival. In order to thwart a plot to wipe out a quarter of the world's population, he must sacrifice all, even the children who rescued him…

CLASSIFICATION: Employing the same formula found in James Rollins’ other novels, “The Last Oracle” is an exciting blend of cinematic action and adventure, techno thrills, historical fiction and a splash of the fantastical. Think Michael Crichton meets Dan Brown crossed with Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones and National Treasure :)

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 448 pages divided over four ‘Parts’, twenty-two chapters and a Prologue/Epilogue. Also includes ‘From the Historical Record’, an ‘Author’s Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction’, and various maps, diagrams and sketches interspersed throughout the novel. Narration is in the third-person via a large cast of characters including heroes, villains and supporting players—Gray Pierce, Painter Crowe, Yuri Raev, Savina Martov, Elizabeth Polk, Trent McBride, Lisa Cummings, Kat Bryant, etc. “The Last Oracle” is the fifth entry in the Sigma Force series and like the others, the book is self-contained, although it does deal with a subplot from “The Judas Strain” and also gives readers a hint regarding the next Sigma Force novel—one word: Dragon. The Sigma Force books are written so readers can jump on at any point, but I recommend reading at least “The Judas Strain” before starting “The Last Oracle”…

June 24, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Last Oracle” via
HarperCollins Canada and William Morrow. The UK edition (see inset) hits shelves September 4, 2008 via Orion Books. The US cover design is by Kris Tobiassen while the interior schematics are provided by Steve Prey.

ANALYSIS: Long-time followers of James Rollins will no doubt know what to expect from his latest offering, “The Last Oracle”, but for those unfamiliar with the author’s work, here’s what you can look forward to:

The Good1) The action is nonstop, pulse-pounding and stylish, like straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster, and similar to Jim’s other adventure novels, “The Last Oracle” alternates between a number of different subplots—interagency politics, a desperate escape, solving a thousand year old puzzle, and stopping a nefarious scheme that could kill millions—which provides ample quantities of thrilling escapades and nail biting cliffhangers. 2) Jim utilizes a number of scientific concepts in his novels which are fascinating, all the more so because they are based on factual data including being able to see into the future, neuromanipulation, remote viewing and some cool gadgets like urumi (whip-swords) and cell phone guns :) 3) Jim also integrates numerous factual historical elements into his books which are likewise fascinating. In this case, we have everything from Pythia, gypsies and Dr. Josef Mengele to Chernobyl, Jasons, and autistic savants. While the scientific and historical elements are based on fact, it should be noted that Jim likes to venture into science fiction/fantasy territory and “The Last Oracle” is no exception. 4) Reading one of Jim’s adventure novels is like reading a travelogue of exotic locales—in this case, “The Last Oracle” takes us from Washington D.C. to Russia and into India. 5) Lastly, Jim is a polished writer who knows how to spin an entertaining yarn led by energetic prose and breakneck pacing.

The Not so Good1) Characters are shallow, conventional and unsurprising. In other words, good guys are good, bad guys are bad, and so on, so even though a few characters end up switching sides in “The Last Oracle”, their decisions fit in with the nature of their personalities. As far as depth, Jim relies on character development from previous Sigma Force novels, so if you’re just starting the series with “The Last Oracle”, you might find Gray and company to be a little one-dimensional. 2) The novels are inundated with cheesy one-liners, although Jim restrains himself in “The Last Oracle” aside from a really bad ‘Uranus’ quip ;). 3) Jim utilizes a number of deus ex machinas to help his characters get out of impossible situations, which leads to the novels’ lack of tension because we never worry about Sigma Force not saving the day or that someone will die, although a few secondary characters are refreshingly killed off in “The Last Oracle”. And 4), while the scientific/historical aspects in Jim’s books are no doubt intriguing, the data provided tends to be of the superficial variety.

CONCLUSION: I enjoyed reading “The Last Oracle” like I’ve enjoyed reading all of James Rollins’ novels, but at the same time the book was a minor disappointment. The problem, at least for me, is that Jim’s action-adventure + science + history + mystery + save the world formula is starting to feel a little stale. So even though the novel introduces a few interesting twists like continuing a subplot from the previous Sigma Force adventure, a cool foreshadowing of the next book in the series, and one of the most emotionally moving moments the author has ever written, reading “The Last Oracle” feels awfully familiar. So while “The Last Oracle” is another fun, thrilling and entertaining novel by James Rollins, and I'm sure it will be successful, I think it’s time to shake things up a bit and inject some freshness into the series…

BONUS FEATURE — James Rollins Author Q&A:

Q: Including Sandstorm, “The Last Oracle” (June 24, 2008) is your fifth Sigma Force novel. What made you decide to turn Sigma Force into a series, what are the advantages/disadvantages of a connected series opposed to the self-contained novels you used to write, and how many more Sigma Force novels can readers expect?

James: I don't know how many Sigma books will be in the future. I have mapped out the personal arcs for the current cast of main characters. As to the genesis of the series, it started with “Sandstorm”, where Sigma was first invented. Up until that point I had been sticking to stand-alone novels, mostly because I had a problem with other series where one character constantly gets into trouble. What I call the “Jessica Fletcher Syndrome” from Murder She Wrote…where one woman is constantly stumbling over dead bodies. So I resisted doing a series…until Sigma Force appeared in “Sandstorm”. I thought rather than basing a series on a single individual, what about basing it on a group? A group allows me to shine the spotlight on various individuals and shift that spotlight around between books. Also, with the series based on a group, I could do one thing: put all the characters in mortal jeopardy. I wanted to create a series where MAIN characters could be maimed, permanently disabled, or even killed. So Sigma was born.

Q: Your James Rollins novels are known for their blend of thrilling action-adventure, cutting-edge technology, historical mysteries, and a splash of the fantastical and “The Last Oracle” is no exception, combining bioengineering with the Greek Oracle of Delphi. Could you talk a bit more about some of the science, history, and geography that was chosen for “The Last Oracle” and the research that was involved?

James: The book started from my fascination with human intuition. Is it real? If so, where does it come from? One of the interesting bits of true science I explore in this novel is the fact that humans (for no known reason) DO have the capability to see about three seconds into the future. This research has been tested at multiple universities. But I don't want to go into too much detail here. As to the historical mystery, “The Last Oracle” delves into the history of the Greek Temple of Delphi, where a group of women inhaled vapors and cast out prophecies that would change the course of Western Civilization. But I also explore the origin and history of the Gypsies in this novel. As to geography, we'll be journeying into India and into one of the most toxic and dangerous places on the planet (but you'll have to read the book to discover what that is).

Q: Speaking of research, I’m curious about how you approach a new novel. For example, do you start from scratch when you’re working on a new book or do you have a pile of ideas that you can choose from when you’re deciding what to write next?

James: I guess I start with the three main tent poles to the story: the historical mystery, the science behind the story, and the exotic locales. I research those elements while constructing the skeleton of the plot. And after that, I'm ready to write, to basically put the flesh on that skeleton.

Q: Besides your adventure novels, you also write epic fantasy under the pen name
James Clemens (The Banned and the Banished) including The Godslayer Chronicles. Of this, two volumes have been released so far in “Shadowfall” and “Hinterland”. Now obviously you’ve been pretty busy with “The Last Oracle” and the Indiana Jones movie novelization, but how far along are you with the third Godslayer book and when might readers expect to see it? In the meantime, would you be able to give us a taste of the new book, like maybe a working title or a small preview...? Also, how many volumes do you have planned for The Godslayer Chronicles?

James: I do have more plans for the Godslayer books. In fact, I'm in talks with my agents on finalizing that. The working title for Book Three is “God-Sword”, but I doubt that will be the final title. Besides continuing the storyline, we'll be discovering much more about Laurelle, her past, and her perilous journey to a god hidden in the heart of a volcano. As to the number of books in the series, I have two trilogies plotted. “God-Sword” will finish the first arc (after Shadowfall and Hinterland), but then there will be a second trilogy of stories with many of the same characters.

Q: On a related subject, how do you balance the time you spend writing as James Rollins as opposed to writing as James Clemens? I’m interested in your answer because as James Rollins you’re a perennial New York Times bestseller, but as James Clemens you don’t seem to be nearly as popular. So what kinds of factors are involved in this process?

James: I basically switch from thriller to fantasy, then back again. Once upon a time, I tried writing both simultaneously, but it was a disaster. As to popularity, oddly enough both names are equally as successful—just not in the same markets. The fantasy novels sell very well abroad, where the thrillers currently sell stronger here in the States. But ultimately it doesn't matter. I write what I love to write, and I'm just happy anyone is reading them!

Q: As mentioned earlier, you were selected to write the novelization of the movie
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which was released May 22, 2008. First off, you’re a big fan of Indy so how cool was it to be chosen to write the novelization? Secondly, how different was it writing a book based on a script as opposed to writing your own original fiction? Incidentally, where does Kingdom of the Crystal Skull stack up compared to the other Indiana Jones films?

James: Oh, yeah, I'm a huge Indy fan. In fact, I remember seeing Raiders for the first time. There was a sneak preview of that movie, and I had to be the first to see that movie. I'm just sort of that sort of movie geek (and proudly so!). In fact, I still have a “May the Force Be With You” button from being one of the first 100 people into the first screening of Star Wars. So I had to see that sneak preview of Raiders. BUT I had also booked a white-water rafting trip for that same day. I remember paddling really, really fast to make sure I was out of that river in time to make the movie. I didn't quite make it. I had to go straight from the river to the theater. So I watched Raiders with soaking wet sneakers and damp clothes…and all in all, it's not a bad way of watching Raiders, added a little something to the viewing.

As to writing the novelization, it was a different bird from writing my own story. I first read the script back in the late spring of 2007. At that time, security was as tight as a bank vault, and to even read the script, it required a drive over to Lucasfilm studios in the Presidio of San Francisco. But over time, I was allowed access to the script at home and granted a key to a site where still shots from the movie were uploaded. So between reading the script, talking with the screenplay writer (the amazing David Koepp), and viewing the shots from the production department, I was able to begin working on the novel.

I found it an interesting and fascinating challenge. It was both involving and liberating: deconstructing the script, creating internal monologue, expanding some scenes, contracting others, and inventing brand new scenes. The studio gave me a fairly free hand. And all in all, I was able to add about a dozen entirely new scenes that aren't in the script or movie.

As to which movie I liked the best…despite my own involvement, I have to still say nothing surpasses Raiders! (But then again, it might have been because of the wet clothes.)

Q: Regarding your own books, when are fans going to see one of your novels hitting the big screen? After all, they’re tailor-made for the theatres and I believe a couple of your titles have already been optioned. So any updates?

James: Actually at one time or another, almost every book has been optioned. Hollywood spends a lot of time nibbling at the books, so hopefully sometime we might see a project greenlit for full production. In fact, just this past two weeks, I've fielded inquiries from various sources into the Sigma series, the books “Amazonia” and “Ice Hunt”, and The Banned and the Banished fantasy series. So keep your fingers crossed.

Q: Just for fun though, which of your books would you most like to see turned into a film and who would you want involved with the adaptation?

James: I personally would love to see “Amazonia” made into a movie, mostly just because of all the strange animals in that book. Like the piranha-frog (a mutated cross between a flesh-eating piranha and the poisonous dart frog). I'd love to see the McDonald's tie-in for that movie: “buy a Happy Meal, get a plushy piranha-frog!”

As to dream actors or screenplay writers, I'd leave that to the experts. For me, the characters in my head ARE the characters, so it's hard for me to pick actors to fill the various roles. But I'd love to do a cameo in the movie…perhaps even being chased by a piranha-frog.


The Reader said...

Hey Rob

GR8 interview man & thanks for asking bout the Godslayer chronicles.... now we know the working title as well as the no. of books in total as well. Nice review of the book dude, Its gonna be a fun entry to the SIGMA series, probably be his best ever

I'm gonna be posting the link to this interview & review on the forum

Robert said...

I'm glad you liked the interview :) Jim was pretty forthcoming about everything, so I'm pretty happy with it! As far as the book, if you liked the other Sigma Force novels, I'm sure you'll enjoy "The Last Oracle" just as much :)

And thanks for posting a link on the forum!

heather (errantdreams) said...

I started reading Rollins's books not all that long ago, and have read three. One of the things I found most interesting about reading those (Black Order, Sandstorm, and Deep Fathom) was seeing the ways in which his writing had improved over time. I love to see a writer's skills visibly get better, and they truly did. Since it sounds like his formula's getting a little old, I hope he continues to learn and starts mixing it up a bit soon. I really need to pick up Judas Strain and this one sometime. You know, in that copious spare time I'm hiding around here somewhere... ;)

Robert said...

Heather, yeah Jim has really come a long way from his earliest efforts and is definitely on top of his game :) And I think we might see a little shakeup in the next Sigma Force novel...

Anonymous said...

OK, I realize these are fantasy thrillers, but still don't think you can just make up your own facts. 16 pages in (reading Ice Hunt) Rollins indicates there are thousands of bear attacks and 100s of fatalities each year in Alaska. NOT. Actually about 30 deaths total in last CENTURY. Can't decide whether to bother to finish book now...someone with a science background should do better research.

Ann said...

It seems to me that Rollins has mistaken the Pythia for the Delphic Sibyl in this book.

They are two different beings.

Michelangelo did not paint the Pythia at the Sistine Chapel as Rollins seems to say.

He painted the Delphic Sibyl, which is a very different individual.

Anonymous said...

Who was in peutrs body

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