Sometimes a book comes out with an idea so compelling and intriguing and yet so simple that I wonder to myself why someone didn’t think of it ages ago! Such is the case when I first learned about Ted Kosmatka’s recently released novel, Prophet of Bones, via io9:
The idea in question? Imagine a society where the foundation of modern science is young earth creationism (YEC): everyone believes that the world was created 5,800 years ago. Evolution has been debunked, and radiometric dating seems to confirm these results.
In this alternate universe we meet Paul Carlsson, a talented young scientist who is a specialist in extracting DNA from ancient bones. Paul has no reason to question the status quo until he is inexplicably pulled from his job and sent to work at a remote dig site in Indonesia — a dig site at which primitive non-human creatures have been uncovered. Creatures that, like humans, were tool users. When the site gets shut down violently, Paul manages to steal away a sample of the bone. He soon finds himself on the run, hunted down by a mysterious organization that not only employs murderous mercenaries but also controls powerful and nightmarish creatures.
Prophet of Bones is a fast-paced story that is a blend of thriller, alternate history and science fiction. It manages to be more thought-provoking than most thrillers thanks to its unusual setting, but it doesn’t sacrifice any thrills or intensity because of it. (There are, in fact, a few cringe-inducing scenes of particular nastiness.)
If I were to quibble about the novel at all, I would say that I wish a bit more information was presented in the end as to how the world ended up wholeheartedly endorsing YEC! It seems like an incredible conspiracy to accomplish, requiring the suppression of knowledge of vast amounts of physics, geology, and biology. There seems to be another story in there, though it was not the one that Kosmatka wanted to tell in this book. Here, if I understood it correctly, we see how scientific ignorance can be used to serve the selfish ends of unscrupulous people.
This is Ted Kosmatka’s second novel, after his early 2012 release The Games, which I will have to go back and read now. He is also a writer at Valve, known for such awesome story-centered games as Portal and Half-Life. He also has a background in biology and chemistry, which shows in his detailed laboratory descriptions in Prophet of Bones. It is also noteworthy that the novel includes a list of scientific references!
In short: Prophet of Bones is a fun, intense, fast-paced thriller. I will certainly be on the lookout for any future work by the same author!