Sigma: Summing Up Science Fiction, History, Legends and Morality
A Review of James Rollins’ SIGMA Force Novels
In 2004, James Rollins published Sandstorm, the first novel to form part of the SIGMA Force series of novels. This series involves a fictional division of the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) called “Sigma Force” which consists of highly-skilled military operatives who have multiple doctorate degrees on different fields. This group is tasked to investigate and secure sensitive scientific information that could be a threat to the United States of America, and serves as a base for certain covert counter-terrorism and research operations.
Written primarily as a thriller, the novels often include new scientific discoveries, historical facts and mysteries, legends, and spiritual and moral principles to keep the stories going.
Moreover, the novels generally follow a pattern, each beginning with a prologue that is usually a historical fiction coupled by a glimpse to a more recent event. This is usually followed by a series of events in which the Sigma Force team meets a relative of someone who has more knowledge on the history or science behind a certain phenomenon but who is usually dead for the most part of the story. As action and adventure unfold with the team of operatives often split into two groups, discoveries also unfold leading to an end in which the scientific discoveries and innovations are tied up to either historical myths and facts, or spiritual and moral principles. The novel ends with a short and light epilogue that tells of what happened to the people directly involved in the discoveries.
Given this pattern, the novels which have been published so far can be considered as stand-alone novels. Nevertheless, the beginning and end of each novel often provides scenes which relate to the main story of the series--the struggle between Sigma Force and The Guild, a multi-national militarized scientific group with evil intentions.
The Novels as Science Fiction Novels
As science fiction thrillers, the novels go beyond the characteristics of traditional examples of science fiction which often involve either space exploration, time travel or men and women who became superheroes through some kind of operations or by encountering some accidents. Rather, these novels involve stories that involve scientific discoveries and speculations. Among these are the stable antimatter and buckyball conformation of water in the first novel, Sandstorm, and the existence of weightless substances such as m-state gold in Map of Bones. The principles of quantum mechanics as well as the dual nature of light and quantum phenomena were also explored in the third novel, Black Order, while microorganisms such as bacteria served as the pivot point of The Judas Strain. In the last novel published so far, The Last Oracle, the author explored the results of studies showing that humans have the general ability to see three seconds into the future, the existence of autistic savants, and the possibility of exploring the brain by using electrodes.
In addition to these are some scientific innovations used in the novels such as compatible gas chromatographs (GCs), fluid body armor, a gun which can be made to look like a cellular phone and antimatter detectors.
References to History and Legends
The novels also took advantage of a number of historical facts and ambiguities, as well as legends, the occurrence of which were eventually explained by the scientific discoveries and speculations which Rollins included in the novels.
Be it about the destruction of the lost City of Ubar, the Magi’s bones, the temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the mysterious reduction of Marco Polo’s ships which left Asia to reach Europe, or the origins of the Romani people, Rollins never failed to seize the opportunity to find a plausible story that could use such mysteries and ambiguities and connect these to scientific discoveries and speculations.
Morality and Spirituality
Nevertheless, a Sigma Force novel is often incomplete without moral and spiritual themes incorporated in them. Apart from the fact that the novels cling to the traditional idea of the good winning over the evil and misled people albeit with a large number of casualties, the novels also present a number of ideas the author definitely upholds and a number of practices the author seem to abhor.
In particular, the themes of loyalty and betrayal exist in all of the books given that these themes can help increase and improve the twists in the novels. Apart from these, the author had also explored themes such as the Machiavellian philosophy of the end justifying the means, the power and effectiveness of prayer, the existence of a Higher Being, love for others, self-sacrifice and politicking.
These themes, nevertheless, are necessary not just to improve the plot, but also to engage the readers and make them more aware of the realities of life. For example, the author explores how technology affects and changes us economically, physically, morally and spiritually in all the novels of the series. In the Q&A section of his website, he wrote, “Technology is not all cogs and wheels. There is a human cost to every bit of technology. It regularly tests society’s moral compass. Is human cloning good or bad? What about stem cell research on aborted fetal tissue? What about the escalating realism of the violence in video games? Can and should we engineer our children in the womb? At every turn, in every facet, technology tests a society—morally, spiritually, and economically. And at the pace in which technology is leaping and bounding we are quickly outstripping our abilities to rein in our advancements or to adequately judge where these technologies will take us.” More than simply providing suspense, thrill and entertainment, the author encourages critical thinking to keep our moral compass in check amidst rapid advancements in technology.
Suspense, thrill, scientific discoveries, scientific speculations, technological innovations, historical facts, historical ambiguities, mysteries, legends, morality and spirituality--these are the key elements of the novels in James Rollins’ Sigma Force novels which make the novels enjoyable to read and worth anticipating for.
Such combination of themes, however, does not belong solely to this series or to the author. Rather, numerous thrillers written in the twenty-first century explore a combination of multi-disciplinary themes, taking advantage of ambiguities and mysteries, in order to produce a novel or a series of novels that entertains.
For me, the most important attribute to a novel is its message. A novel should not only provide entertainment but should also get its message across by summing different elements up just as the capital Greek letter sigma serves as a summation operator in Mathematics.
- Harper Collins Publishers. “James Rollins General Q&A”. Retrieved 31 December 2008 from http://www.jamesrollins.com/qanda1.html.
- Harper Collins Publishers. “Q&A with James Rollins on the Publication of The Judas Strain”. Retrieved 31 December 2008 from http://www.jamesrollins.com/qanda.html.
- Harper Collins Publishers. “Q&A related to the new novel The Last Oracle”. Retrieved 31 December 2008 from http://www.jamesrollins.com/qanda2.html.
James Rollins and the Sigma Force Novels
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Official Website of New York Times Best Selling Author James Rollins of the Sigma Force Series, Jake Ransom Series and Individual Adventures