Forge -- A Tom Doherty Associates Book
US Hardcover First
349 pages; $22.95
Date Reviewed: 03-21-1996
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002
Some books seem inevitable, and if ever there were a candidate for inevitability, it's "Mount Dragon" by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. The epidemic success of "The Hot Zone" by Douglas Preston's brother Richard guaranteed that there would be a work of fiction that incorporated the terrifying facts into a page-turning novel. With a movie based on their first novel, "Relic", queueing up for release this summer, it seems natural that these writers should turn their attention to this topical subject. But "Mount Dragon" covers a lot more ground than either "The Hot Zone" or "Relic", and for the most part, does so admirably. Like "Relic", "Mount Dragon" combines intriguing scientific speculation and an authentically rendered environment with a cheesy 'science gone bad' plotline right out of a 1950's monster movie. If you can ignore (or laugh with instead of at) the occasional howler, then "Mount Dragon" provides an enjoyable source of sleepless nights.
The novel starts when Guy Carson, a mid-level researcher at GeneDyne, is re-located from New Jersey to Mount Dragon in New Mexico. It's a high-tech, Level 5 containment facility where the company is researching ground-breaking and potentially deadly variations of influenza. Before you can even sneeze, Guy is introduced to a beautiful, fiery and talented researcher who will join him in a quest to stop the progress of a deadly disease out of the facility and into the open, unprepared world.
There are several volumes worth of research that went into the his book, covering subjects that range from desert survival skills to genetic engineering, from horseback riding to modern computer networking theory. Preston and Childs pull off the technical details with a surprising ease and authenticity, especially when dealing with aspects of computer network security. In the process, they create characters who are obviously analogues to such real-life figures as Bill Gates and Jeremy Rifkin. As with "Relic", the scientific arguments and theories discussed render the obscure in simplistic but effective language accesible to the maintream reader. And, as with "Relic", they seem impelled to put howling cliches in the center of the narrative, scenes straight out of Roger Corman movies. It's a peculiar but effective combination of clear depths and murky shallows that is likely to translate well on the big screen.
The characters in "Mount Dragon" are a mixed bag. If you've read any Robin Cook or Michael Crichton, then you're likely to have met enough irascible but beautiful researchers to last the rest of your lifetime. But Douglas and Preston do especially well with their Jeremy Rifkin analogue and his collaborator, a brilliant computer hacker. They get the right details in the right places, and use their extensive research to paint a convincing character in a minimum of space. Guy Carson is a role ready-made for Kevin Costner, but the writers have imparted to him a fascinating wealth of horse lore and desert survival tactics, which gives at least some complexity to his man-in-the-white-hat purity.
As with the characters, the authors have used their extensive knowledge to punch up the plot. On one hand, it's quite obvious where the novel is going. Counterbalancing this is the path it will take, which Preston and Child decorate using a wealth of genetic engineering and cybernetic theory. The theory is tight, if somewhat simple, and it makes "Mount Dragon" a sucessful theme-park ride, with all the details helping to add chills to those familiar Saturday-afternoon matinee thrills.