The Himalayan Codex: Extrapolating Complex Scientific Ideas into Ripping Yarns

G.J. Berger

In 1946, experts at New York’s Museum of Natural History pore over two new items — present-day bones (with nasty tooth marks) from an unknown small mammoth, and writings from Roman historian and explorer Pliny the Elder. Sherpas in the Tibetan mountain wilderness found the bones. The ancient writings (Codex) came from under the ruins of Pompeii and tell of strange events and creatures also in Tibet.

Army Captain and expert field zoologist J. R. MacCready, archeologist and linguist Yanni Thorne, and Special Forces Lieutenant Jerry Delarosa are sent on a mission to learn what they can before the growing tide of Chinese Communists closes off the area.

Mac crash-lands his chopper on a shelf in the eastern Himalayas. Mac’s little crew hunting for Yeti or strange elephant-like creatures quickly becomes ensnared by a race of giant upright primates. The three are hauled into an ice world beyond anything previously imagined — except perhaps to Pliny and his Roman explorer army.

The failing Chinese government has indeed realized something strange and powerful exists in this region and sends in a team. The Kremlin becomes curious.

In The Himalayan Codex (William Morrow, 2017) authors Bill Schutt and J. R. Finch create an enthralling ice world. Innocuous-looking white grass is flesh-devouring worms. The local ape-like captors run and climb and heal from wounds faster than any human. The apes build ice structures stronger and longer-lasting than if made of the finest steel and eat strange foods that nourish and taste good. They quickly understand and sound out foreign languages. They have enslaved small mammoth-like elephants, which are themselves smart and resourceful. They exhibit human emotions. And they have figured out how to evolve very fast and to create microbes that can hunt and destroy target species, microbes that might be used in race warfare. Our US team tries to absorb it all while scrambling to stay alive and, if lucky, return home.

With seeming ease, Schutt and Finch weave together the multiple plot lines and characters spanning two millennia. The authors admit that “We still don’t know how it happens, but ultimately we end up finishing each other’s sentences and jumping around the room like kids.”

The novel contains a fair amount of science and historical detail but never overwhelms or insults the reader’s sense of what might be. Comprehensive authors’ notes lay out how actual events and real people (from Pliny to Chinese explorers and American experts) became models for much of the novel.

The authors explain, “As writers both of us love the challenge of taking complex scientific ideas and translating them for a wide readership.” They add that they most love “extrapolating little-known discoveries, normally seen only in scientific and historical journals, into events that might actually happen. But if scientific reality dictates, ‘No, you cannot in any way do this,’ then we don’t let it happen in our novel.”

Wonderful sketches of Himalayan animals (present and past) by Patricia J. Wynne and pertinent quotations from well-known scoundrels and luminaries grace each chapter heading and provoke the reader’s mind about what might be going on in the coming pages. The layered cover image and masthead page with a photograph of a Tibetan valley help to create a handsome paper book.

After the rush of an Avatar-like world and a Michael Crichton-like story, profound questions linger. How do we relate to creatures not “like” us? Where will DNA and microbe manipulations take us? What will happen to our world, and how soon? J. R. Finch is optimistic, but only if we “manage not to keep distracting ourselves with useless wars.” Bill Schutt is not as comfortable. “At some point it’ll be up to Keith Richards and Cher to start over.”

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR: G.J. Berger, reviewer for the HNS and award-winning author, lives in San Diego with his favorite grammarian and Argentine Tango dance partner.


Published in Historical Novels Review  |  Issue 81, August 2017

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