A review of Ancient of Genes (Ancient Beacon, book One) by Dan Gallagher.
Imagine the laboratories of Jurassic Park and State of Fear, the dangers of The Lost World and Eaters of the Dead, all of the intrigues and firepower of the Jason Bourne trilogy, rolled into one. And now add a cameo appearance by the Mother of God, come to say that the fate of all mankind is at stake. That’s Ancient of Genes for you.
I’m not even to the book’s climactic battle yet, and I’m excited to read the next “Ancient Beacon” book already. I even bought the paperback for my Kindle-adverse wife, near-impossible to buy books for, who said (for once) “I’d read that!”
This is not your average “mad-scientist” book, nor is it really covered by the “action-adventure novel” tag. In the 1990s, LaHaye & Jenkins’ Left Behind series brought end-times fiction into the mainstream from its niche-position within the “Religious fiction” ghetto, but this doesn’t fit that set, either. Gallagher’s not writing in ANY of those genres, but splicing all three into a near-seamless story of mad scientists, ruthless politicians, and the impending Second Coming, all at the same time. He writes as a Roman Catholic, rather than an American Evangelical, so the religious parts will seem weird to those looking for the next Left Behind. But rejoice! Unlike the supermajority of End Times “thrillers,” this is NOT a book in, nor for, the Family Bookstore literary ghetto, to be shelved with Inspirational Fiction against the back wall. It’s not even fair to hold up Left Behind for comparison, a series that loomed large over the “Christian/Inspirational Fiction” ghetto but was and is still thouroughly in that ghetto; the
better comparison, nearer match, and higher praise would be to compare it to James BeauSeigneur’s Christ Clone Trilogy, an End-Times story that doesn’t drag out interminably like “Left Behind,” and could make a T-Rex’s work of that genre flagship while sleepwalking.
The opening drags a bit, as Gallagher lays out the underlying science and speculated science techniques in Chapter One, but while he’s doing that, he’s priming the engines, and the plot soon takes off like a rocket. There are plenty of characters, with plenty of motivations and inspirations, and sometimes they’re harder to remember who was which, but very few clichés or cut-outs. His weak point there seems to be with his Middle Eastern characters (Iraqis and Egyptians, with a few Syrians in an early scene), as none but the few Syrians seem particularly motivated by Islamic thinking or cultural habits in any form I recognized, for good or ill. Islam being, as it is, the cultural axis around which even the most secular of those nations orbit, its absence was a flaw in the plot’s execution, but even Crichton left gaping plot-holes in places.
Where Gallagher excels is in his action scenes and his creature encounters. Even the herbivores are deadly in the wrong moments, but granting their context, they’re plausibly deadly in ways that they should be. The intrigue is multilayered and multi-directional at once, international and inter-agency, intertribal and inter-office. And even his cave-men stand on their own hairy feet as protagonists to cheer or foes to scorn.
Read Ancient of Genes. You won’t regret it.