Pirates, Cannibals, & Marco Polo - And a Believable Plot

Post date: Nov 10, 2014 9:47:35 PM

The Judas Strain by James Rollins

How do you create a plot featuring an ancient deadly plague, the explorer Marco Polo, modern day pirates, and a cruise ship full of cannibals, and still make it sound plausible? I don’t know, but James Rollins did just that in The Judas Strain, the fourth in his popular Sigma Force action series.A mysterious plague sweeps over an Indonesian tourist island, infecting hundreds with a flesh-scorching microbe. A cruise ship commandeered by the World Health Organization and staffed with scientists begins investigating the epidemic only to be overtaken by modern day pirates working on behalf of the Guild, a worldwide corporate entity seeking profit out of every opportunity. Aboard the cruise ship are two members of Sigma Force, Dr. Lisa Cummings and Monk Kokkalis. While Monk wages a one-man covert war below decks, Cummings is forced to join forces with Guild scientists to find a cure to the mysterious malady.

On the other side of the world, Sigma Force Commander Gray Pierce and his sometime romantic interest, Guild assassin Seichan, join forces to find a cure by following long-hidden clues about Marco Polo’s return trip from Asia, during which he encountered the ancient plague and found a cure. Eventually, both avenues of investigation meet at the ancient Hindu site of Cambodia's Angkor Wat in a tense, white-knuckle conclusion.

Where do the cannibals come in? One of the effects of the infection is to create an uncontrollable and insatiable hunger in its some of its victims that drives them to cannibalism.

Let’s face it, at first glance, these plot elements seem outlandish. But Rollins, a trained veterinarian, is known for his scientific research and he seamlessly blends scientific fact with his fictitious plot elements. The only trouble I have believing Rollins’ Sigma Force stories is the idea that the U.S. Army’s research agency, DARPA, has a group of scientists-turned-commandos. That’s only because I support my own writing endeavors as a researcher for a military institution, and I just can’t imagine any of my coworkers like that. However, for Rollins’ books I willingly suspend my disbelief. They are just too enjoyable.