Monday, May 20, 2024

#Review - Extinction by Douglas Preston #SyFy #Thriller

Series: Unknown
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: April 23, 2024
Publisher: Forge Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Science Fiction / Thriller

With Extinction, #1 New York Times bestselling author Douglas Preston has written a page-turning thriller in the Michael Crichton mode that explores the possible and unintended dangers of the very real efforts to resurrect the woolly mammoth and other long-extinct animals.

Erebus Resort, occupying a magnificent, hundred-thousand acre valley deep in the Colorado Rockies, offers guests the experience of viewing woolly mammoths, Irish Elk, and giant ground sloths in their native habitat, brought back from extinction through the magic of genetic manipulation. When a billionaire's son and his new wife are kidnapped and murdered in the Erebus back country by what is assumed to be a gang of eco-terrorists, Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Frances Cash partners with county sheriff James Colcord to track down the perpetrators.

As killings mount and the valley is evacuated, Cash and Colcord must confront an ancient, intelligent, and malevolent presence at Erebus, bent not on resurrection—but extinction.

Douglas Preston's Extinction takes a page from Michael Crichton in exploring the possible and unintended dangers of the very real efforts to resurrect the woolly mammoth and other long-extinct animals. Erebus Resort, occupying a magnificent, hundred-thousand acre valley deep in the Colorado Rockies, offers guests the experience of viewing woolly mammoths, Irish Elk, and giant ground sloths in their native habitat, brought back from extinction through the magic of genetic manipulation.
Not to steal anyone's thunder, but don't call it Jurassic Park. There are no dinosaurs, but there is something much, much more dangerous involved. When a billionaire's son and his new wife (Olivia and Mark Gunnerson) disappear without a trace, Colorado Bureau of Investigation Agent Frances Cash partners with county sheriff James Colcord to track down the perpetrators. Could it be eco-terrorists, or environmental protesters, or could it be animal liberation protesters, or maybe a foreign government who wants what Erebus offers.
As evidence is collected and analyzed, Cash and Colcord conclude that a good deal of lying and deception is occurring by major players at Erebus. When Cash & Colcord search the woods they sense silent shapes flitting through the trees and hear hideous yowling. Cash and Colcord realize cryptic creatures are scurrying around the resort, which is made even more evident by additional frightening occurrences. The investigators probe into events more deeply, and shocking secrets are revealed.
Meanwhile, a film crew is making a movie on the resort property, directed by Slavomir Doyle. Doyle tells Cash and Colcord the film is about a herd of mammoths that get caught in a time warp and appear in the 1880s. Cowboys then tame the mammoths and ride them into town to save the residents from a robber baron. Doyle and his crew soon find out that Erebus isn't what they imagined or paid for when dynamite they are using for a stunt goes missing, and later are attacked by strange looking humans.
*Preston is not a new to me author. I have read several of his series, as well as standalone novels. Extinction weaves together elements of thriller, mystery, suspense, police procedural, science fiction, and adventure. Readers were left with unanswered questions as to Cash's past in Maine, and how she ended up in Colorado. The only thing that maybe can be equated to Jurassic Park is that scientists need to learn to not mess with things that will eventually come back and eat them.  After reading the ending, there is little doubt that the author plans to continue the Cash & Colcord partnership. 


“Look—over there,” said the guide in a hushed voice, handing Olivia the binoculars. “On the far side of the lake.”

Olivia Gunnerson took the binoculars and directed them toward the turquoise pond, which lay a mile away at the bottom of the cirque, below their vantage point. It took her a moment to locate the woolly mammoths, four big ones and two smaller ones, on the opposite shore. She touched up the focus, and the animals sprang into sharp relief. It took her breath away. They were so gigantic they looked almost fake—much bigger than the elephants she’d seen on safari in Africa. The bull was drinking deeply. He was fifteen feet at the shoulder, his tusks great scimitars of ivory as long again as his body, sweeping outward from a shaggy domed head. The matriarch of the family was standing guard, her trunk elevated and moving back and forth, warily testing the air, as her calf huddled under her protective bulk, pushing his head upward to suckle. An older calf splashed in the shallows, dipping his trunk and playfully squirting water from it. It was early fall, but here in the mountains, the mammoths were already growing out winter coats, the long brown hair hanging down several feet.

Olivia was thrilled. It was a scene straight out of the Ice Age, the family of mammoths lingering in a lush meadow bordering the pond, with the glittering, snowcapped peaks of the Erebus Mountains of Colorado forming a majestic backdrop. To one side of the group stood a grove of fall aspen trees, their leaves a cloud of shimmering gold rustling with every swell of the breeze.

Mammuthus columbi,” whispered the guide. “The largest of all the mammoths, the northern subspecies with fur. That bull weighs at least ten tons.”

Olivia continued staring through the glasses. The bull finished drinking and playfully sprayed water from his trunk at the young one, who squealed in delight, the faint sound drifting across the valley.

“Incredible,” she breathed. As a girl growing up in Salt Lake City, Olivia had been crazy about dinosaurs and wanted to be a paleontologist, until skiing had taken over her life.

“Don’t bogart those binocs,” said Mark, Olivia’s husband.

“Sorry,” she said with a laugh, handing them over and giving his shoulder an affectionate squeeze. She was so mesmerized she had almost forgotten the rest of the world existed. She turned to their guide, Stefan. “What will they do when the snow comes?”

“They’ll move lower down in the valley and take shelter in the forests,” he said.

Their guide, Olivia observed, was one of those super-fit older men who seemed to be made of cords and cables, with a grizzled beard and leathery skin, exuding a sense of vigor. She wondered if Mark would be like that in his fifties. Probably. He would never let his fitness regimen slide, and neither would she.

“In winter, what do they eat?” Mark asked.

“They’ll tear down the aspens and cottonwoods and eat the twigs and buds, and they’ll paw up the snow to get at the mosses and bushes along the creeks and bogs. They wreak havoc—but it’s an environmentally good kind of havoc. Since being rewilded, they’ve changed the ecology of the valley, opening up meadows and churning up the ground—which increased the landscape’s carbon absorption by fifty percent.”

“It looks like they’re coming around the lake,” said Olivia. Even without the glasses, she could see them on the move, the matriarch leading the way, moseying along the shore. “They’re coming our way.”

“Nothing to worry about,” said the guide. “They’re as peaceful as puppy dogs.”

The backpack to the campsite had been fourteen tough miles over a three-thousand-foot vertical gain, carrying fifty-pound packs. They had camped in a high meadow at ten thousand feet, not far below the tree line, in a magnificent cirque of mountains called the Barbicans. Olivia had spent much of her thirty years of life outdoors, skiing and backpacking, but she had never seen a place quite as spectacular as this, with its towering, snow-clad peaks, the aspens shivering with gold, the flawless aquamarine of the lake reflecting the evening cumulus—and the crowning glory of it all, the family of woolly mammoths ambling around the lake, their trunks swinging as they went, two little ones trotting along.

That morning, they had left the lodge in a jeep before dawn: her husband, herself, and Stefan. It had been a bumpy eleven-mile drive to the trailhead. They had begun hiking at first light, going up through a deep forest of Douglas firs before coming out on a ridge, with views down into the Erebus Valley and the now distant lodge and its nearby lake, created along the Erebus River by the gnawing and tree-felling of giant beavers, Castoroides, another animal that had been “de-extincted,” in the jargon of the Erebus Resort.

While at the lodge, every evening, they had watched woolly mammoths and other Pleistocene megafauna coming in to drink at the lake, regular as clockwork. The guests congregated at the glassed-in wall to watch them gather. It was like Disneyland, everyone crowding forward and oohing and aahing, clutching their drinks and trying to get selfies with their cell phones. But here, in the mountains, seeing the mammoths living free and naturally, was a totally different experience. It was like seeing elephants in a zoo versus viewing them on safari in the African bush.

Mark handed her the binoculars, and she looked again. The mammoths were now on the north side of the tarn and had paused at a thicket, pulling twigs and branches off the bushes and stuffing them into their mouths. One of the mammoths paused to take a dump, and an almost ridiculous amount of stuff came out, leaving a giant pile. On the hike up, she had just avoided stepping in a similar mound, so large she had almost mistaken it for a brown rock. If the guide hadn’t warned her, she would have sunk up to her knees in it. What a laugh they had about that. Later they had spied a group of glyptodons grazing in a far-off meadow. A more outrageous-looking animal could not be found, Olivia thought. Glyptodons were giant armadillos, the same size and shape as a Volkswagen Beetle. She couldn’t see their heads or tails, just five nubbly gray humps in a meadow, moving slowly, leaving cropped trails in the long grass.

But more than anything else, Olivia was dying to see a woolly indricothere. It was the latest animal Erebus had de-extincted, and there were supposed to be two of them in the valley. The indricothere was the largest land mammal that had ever lived, an ancestor of the rhinoceros. It was fully twice the mass of the mammoth, a fifteen-foot behemoth on legs like pillars. The indricothere, she had read in her orientation packet, had been discovered in Siberia in 1916 by a Russian paleontologist named Borissiak, who had named it after the “Indrik Beast,” a mythological Russian monster believed to live deep in the Ural Mountains, so large that when it walked, the earth quaked. The Indrik Beast had the body of a bull, the head of a horse, and a giant horn on its snout and was covered with coarse black fur. The woolly indricothere did in fact look very much like that, except without the horn. Despite their size, the indricotheres were shy and hard to find, because they tended to bury themselves in the dense thickets of chokecherries and buckthorn that grew along the streams in the lower areas of the Erebus Valley, or hide themselves in the densest forests on the upper reaches of the valley.

She shook aside her blond hair and took another look at the mammoths, which had moved beyond the lake and had become more visible as they rambled through the thickets, feeding and leaving a wake of ripped-up vegetation.

“We won’t get stepped on tonight, will we?” she asked with a laugh.

“They’re super careful where they put their feet,” said the guide. “And anyway, as soon as the sun sets, they’ll bed down.”

“Do they lie down to sleep?”

“They’re a bit like horses—they mostly sleep standing up but might lie down for thirty minutes or so. They’re so heavy that if they lie down too long—such as if they’re sick or hurt—they can suffocate.”

The last rays of sunlight were spearing across the lake below, and the air was cooling down fast. At that altitude, Olivia knew, it would dip below freezing in the night.

“Let’s light a fire and rustle up some grub,” said Mark.

“You bet,” said the guide, rising.

The two went to build a fire and prepare dinner. She was glad she’d found a guy who not only liked to cook but was good at it—and on top of that, he washed dishes. The menu that night would be freeze-dried, as usual. That was fine. This was not meant to be a luxury safari where they were waited on hand and foot. On the contrary. For their honeymoon, she and Mark had decided on a serious backcountry adventure—an eight-day backpack along the hundred-and-ten-mile Barbican Trek. It was Erebus’s most famous circuit, and it offered a serious physical challenge, spectacular scenery, and the chance to see incredible Pleistocene megafauna brought back to life by the science of de-extinction and rewilded in a natural habitat. She was a little sorry Mark had insisted on a guide, but she had to admit he had been a fountain of information, while being quiet and unobtrusive. There were no maintained trails or developed campsites in Erebus; that was one of its attractions: you felt like you were a John Muir exploring an unknown and untouched land. It was silly, of course, because Erebus was one of the most curated landscapes in Colorado, but Olivia was tired of backpacking along heavily eroded trails and camping at overused, beaten-down campsites, even deep in the wilderness. In the years since the COVID pandemic, the wild places in America seemed to have gotten more and more overrun.

She watched from her seat on a log as Mark and the guide busied themselves with dinner. Mark had pulled out a flask of Michter’s, and they were trading swigs as they worked. He was such a sweet, eager-beaver guy; you’d never know his father was the billionaire from hell. Mark took after his mom, one of the most wonderful people Olivia had ever met. How those two could’ve paired up she’d never figure out, but she considered herself fortunate in her mother-in-law. The big, blustery, honking-and-swearing tech-billionaire father wasn’t much in the picture anyway. She hoped it would stay that way after she had her baby.

They now had a cheerful fire going. The magic hour had begun, and the peaks were aflame with alpenglow. The temperature was dropping. She pulled on a fleece from her backpack and headed to the fire. She would’ve loved a hit of that bourbon, but, being pregnant, she had to abstain.

“Sorry, hon, I hope you don’t mind,” Mark said, waving the bottle with a guilty grin.

“No worries. You two go right ahead.”

The mammoths were no longer visible, having disappeared behind a rocky ridge between them and the lake. The guide explained they would spend the night in a protected hollow.

The menu was freeze-dried chicken tetrazzini, along with instant soup, hot chocolate, and Toll House cookies for dessert. She watched Mark eat, his jaw muscles working. He was ripped but not bulked up, with long, smooth athletic muscles, dark curly hair, and white teeth. It was funny how being pregnant seemed to make her hornier than ever. She assumed it would have tamped down those kinds of feelings, but apparently not. They’d have to be super quiet, but that made it even more fun, with his hand over her mouth as she came. It was like high school days when she was in her room supposedly studying with a boyfriend, but instead, they had their hands down each other’s pants.

The guide, with his usual sensitivity, had set up his tent discreetly out of sight, behind a clump of trees a good hundred yards from theirs.

Darkness fell, and the stars came out, like God had kicked a bin of glowing dust across the sky. At ten thousand feet, she thought, you could see stars that no sea-level human had ever seen.

The fire had died down, and she could see her breath in the glow of the coals.

Mark stood up. “I’m ready to turn in.”

“Me too,” she said, pretending to yawn. She was already aroused just thinking about it. Something about the strenuous hike, the glyptodons and the mammoths, the snowcapped peaks and the dome of stars made her horny as hell.

She held his hand, and they crawled into the tent. They had already zipped their sleeping bags together, and they quickly stripped and burrowed into the bag, her arms pulling him close. He was ready, and they wasted no time with preliminaries.


Olivia lay in the dark, Mark breathing softly next to her. The night was still, without the breath of breeze, the silence profound. It had dropped below freezing, but their sleeping bags were super warm, and she was used to camping in alpine weather. Her dad had taken her and her brothers camping in the Wasatches and Manti-La Sal in all seasons, sometimes on cross-country ski trips in the dead of winter in ten-foot-deep snow and nights to twenty below. God, she missed him. Mark was a little like that, unintimidated by wilderness conditions, totally cool with anything nature might throw at him. The first thing she did with any new boyfriend was go camping. So many of them, despite their big talk, failed the test—all it took was a little rain or snow, a swarm of mosquitoes, or a rattler, and they were in a panic. Or they just didn’t have a wilderness sense—like casually leaving trash or pissing too close to a stream or not knowing how to set up a tent.

She shifted her body, not feeling the slightest bit tired. The sun set so early in the fall, it was still probably only eight o’clock. She wished she could fall asleep like Mark, who could drop off anywhere, anytime, in five minutes. It was a dark, moonless night. The mammoths would be sleeping in their hollow below them. She listened, wondering if mammoths snored. But she could hear nothing.

Her mind wandered, and she thought of her Olympic medal, sitting in its sock in the back of her underwear drawer in Salt Lake. All those years of work, struggle, risks, crashes, injuries, surgery, rehab, recovery, more work, more struggle—and finally Pyeongchang. All that work had been squeezed up and stamped in a piece of bronze sitting in the back of her drawer. Mark had been upset that she wouldn’t frame it and hang it with a picture of her receiving it on the stand. Why would she? She hated even looking at it.

It would be different for her child. Son or daughter, it didn’t matter. He or she wouldn’t make the mistakes she’d made. Olivia had been through it all and knew now how the system worked and what had to be done, and she could guide her child to something a whole lot better than bronze.

She suddenly was hyperalert, tense. She heard a sound. A strange plucking sound. Mark was instantly awake too. And then it started, the loud tearing sound of the tent fly, like it was being cut.

“What the fuck?” Mark sat up like a shot.

She pulled a headlamp out of the tent pocket and switched it on. She shined it through the mosquito netting of the inner tent to reveal a long, ragged cut in the outer fly.

“What was that?” said Mark. “A branch?”

“There’s no wind,” Olivia said.

“You think it’s a bear?” he said.

“They said the bears had been removed.”

“Yeah, but one could have wandered back in over the mountains.”

Olivia wondered. Maybe it was an animal, smelling the humans inside and reaching out to scratch the fly just to see what it was.

They listened, but the silence was total.

“I’m going out,” said Mark.

“No, wait.”

“I’m not waiting. If it’s a cat or bear, we’d better drive it away. We can’t wait for it to come in here.”

He took the headlamp from her, put it on, and pulled his buck knife from its sheath, before slipping out of the bag. He was wearing Capilene full-body long johns. He went to the tent door and unzipped it.

He paused. No sound. Then he stuck his head outside the door.

“See anything?”


She was filled with uncertainty. It could be a mountain lion in wait. Maybe it ran off when they turned on the headlamp. But Mark was right: they couldn’t just cower in the tent. They had to do something. Calling out for the guide would only put him in a place of danger, and besides, asking for help from the guide ran against her wilderness ethic.

No comments:

Post a Comment