I wanted to like this book. I really did. I had high hopes. The cover of the Crown edition of Ancestor is suitably graphic, with a monstrous creature peeking out from behind some vaguely technological-looking green squares. The book jacket promised hungry monsters on a rampage. And who doesn’t like rampaging monsters?
However, as I discussed last time, the monsters were rather tangential to the story, which instead focused on the interpersonal conflicts of the staff and owners of a clandestine genetic research lab on an island in Lake Superior. I also hoped that the monsters might make a go of it in the final chapters of the novel.
Alas, while the monsters do show up and wreak some vengeance, they are too few and too late to save Ancestor, which had long since lost me with its relentless focus on the supposedly interesting parts of its cardboard characters’ lives. Even during the height of the monster attack, the book still remains stubbornly enamored of its crazed-psychopath-killer plot, which it seems was the author’s real interest. The monsters seem to function more as window dressing.
It would be unfair of me to give away the ending of the book, but I will make a few observations about the last chapters:
· Am I the only one who thinks that the book dropped a whole lot of plot lines from the first two-thirds? By the end, I wondered why I had been told so many details about characters and situations that turned out to have nothing to do with the story.
· Setting the action on an isolated island worked against the story because the monsters never posed a threat to anyone other than the characters on the island, whom I didn’t care about anyway.
· I know the story is supposed to be about “overwhelming hubris,” but did this have to be spelled out with those exact words? The character who utters them never really got enough development to earn the sobriquet.
· Ancestor was first produced as a podcast in 2007, and I think its style and plotting must have worked better in audio, as weekly installments.
· It became evident that the book is (very) heavily influenced by horror movies, and I’m not sure I’ve read a novel that was a purer translation of a movie into print.
· I can sum up the book in three words, one Roman numeral, and a punctuation mark: Jurassic Park IV: Mammals.