Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Nov 042013

Relic, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln ChildDue to a broken modem, I’m writing this blog post on my iPad in the library, so I won’t be able to easily add links and pictures like I usually do. That makes me sad, particularly since we’re going to be discussing Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I absolutely loved Relic, and since I started reading it well in advance to have enough time with a decently long novel, and instead found myself glued to the pages, I had plenty of time to think up images to put in here. (I returned later to add images.

For now, Relic. There will be spoilers in this post.

A mysterious tribe that lives on in more than just its legends… A strange artifact taken away… A curse that haunted the tribe and seems to follow the artifact… I could be talking about Scratches again, but this time I’m talking about Relic. (Despite those similarities, which jumped out at me right away, the two stories are extremely different.)

This novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child begins in the Amazon Basin in 1987 with Whittlesey, who is responsible for the discovery and transport of the Mbwun figurine, which he believes is proof that the Kothoga tribe exists. The expedition ends in failure, but the figurine makes it back to the New York Museum of Natural History. The main story takes place at the museum in the present day (around 1994, based on their statements that Whittlesey’s expedition took place 7 years previously), where a series of odd murders begin.

The murders are brutal and strange–a very specific part of the victim’s brain, the hypothalamus, is removed and apparently eaten. There is no sign of who or what was responsible. And the murders match previous unsolved murders that have followed the crates from the Whittlesey expedition on their journey. The unusualness of the situation brings in Special Agent Pendergast, who is pretty awesome. Pendergast joins the rest of the main cast of characters–researcher Margo Green, Dr. Frock, Lieutenant D’Agosta, and reporter Bill Smithback–in their efforts to uncover the truth behind the murders before anyone else dies, particularly with Museum authorities insisting that they continue with their plans to throw a huge opening party for their new expedition.

Yeah, the creature may be the literal “monster” in this story, but special monster points go to Wright, Rickman, and all the other nitwits who routinely stand in the protagonists’ way, and especially to Coffey, an FBI agent who seems to live for the sole purpose of disagreeing with Pendergast.

While their antics sometimes aggravated me to the point where I wondered how anyone could be that stupid, I liked the main characters a lot. I didn’t like Smithback too much in the beginning, but by the end he’d grown on me. I had to laugh when he keeps eating during the chaos until he realizes he’s snacking his way through what could be the biggest story of his career. His goals weren’t as noble as those of some of the others, but he was a good character.

As time passes and the case gets weirder, it becomes clear that the murderer is perhaps the so-called “Museum Beast,” and evidence turns up that suggests it could bear an uncanny resemblance to the mythical Mbwun, or “He Who Walks On All Fours” (Preston and Child 234), from the legends of the Kothoga. As they look at the situation further, Dr. Frock presents his own theory, that “every sixty to seventy million years or so, life stars getting very well adapted to its environment. Too well adapted, perhaps. There is a population explosion of the successful life forms. Then, suddenly, a new species appears out of the blue. It is almost always a predatory creature, a killing machine. It tears through the host population, killing, feeding, multiplying” (203), and that the Mbwun creature loose in the Museum is just that.

I have to say, I loved all of it–the Kothoga legend, the science, and Frock’s theory (which did make me think more than a little bit of the Reapers popping up to wipe everyone out whenever life has reached an advanced enough state).

Sovereign the Reaper from Mass Effect

As monsters go, Mbwun spends most of its time in the shadows for this novel. Bodies are found after they’ve been killed, characters hear the beast walking around, and the figurine is the main link to the creature. It isn’t clearly seen until near the end. However, I thought the mystery surrounding it make it a very interesting creature nevertheless. The link to the plants confused me at first (mainly because of Margo saying “Mbwun” is the name of the plants, which I’m still unsure about), but that turned out to be an interesting twist and gave the monster a motivation beyond “kill people.” It needed plants. It needed those hormones. It needed to eat hypothalamuses if it couldn’t get its plants. The comparison of the plants to a virus was interesting–even more so in the revelation in the epilogue of Whittlesey’s true fate.

My iPad has decided to go crazy on me and make typing this as difficult as possible, so I’ll end here instead of gushing on further about how much I loved this book.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to look up Reliquary,the sequel.

Works Cited

Preston, Douglas, and Lincoln Child. Relic. New York: Tor, 1995. Print.

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  7 Responses to “Relic: It’s Like Scratches Meets Crichton”

  1. Gosh, I wish I had felt this way about this book, but I just didn’t. I’m glad this approach connected with someone! Almost all of it left me pretty cold.

  2. Let me know what you think of Reliquary – it’s one of the only Pendergast books I haven’t read. My mother read it and told me not to bother once upon a time, but I might pick it up anyway.

  3. I’m still confused about how the plants change one creature into another. It got to the point where I had to shrug and try to accept it.

  4. Yep. That’s pretty much it. Viruses work by replicating their DNA into the cells of their host. The Mubwun virus was also chimeric, it took bits of DNA from previous hosts (geckos, apes, maybe dinosaurs) and spliced it with its own. Then it replicates the new chimeric DNA into its hosts cells until the host is fully transformed into a genetic hybrid of its original form, and the mishmash of DNA from all of the other previous hosts.

  5. The plant thing was definitely confusing for me. I think I would have understood it or accepted it a little easier if it was actually the plants that caused the transformation, not something on the plants. Why have the plants in the first place? Just have someone get infected when they’re in the jungle. I know the plants fit into the science facts of the story but it was just a little much for me.

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