FORT WORTH, Texas
In "The Eye of God," the new adventure novel from James Rollins, the Sigma Force team of soldiers-turned-scientists have four days to save the world before it's obliterated by debris from a passing comet.
The team's success depends on locating a downed satellite in the remote reaches of Mongolia.
Rollins was putting finishing touches on his everything-but-the-kitchen-sink plot -- which not only incorporates cutting-edge scientific theories involving dark energy, quantum entanglement and multiple universes, but also centuries-old conspiracy theories about the treasures of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan and the travels of Thomas the Apostle -- when part of the book didn't seem quite so farfetched anymore.
That's because there was an unexpected explosion over Russia in February, courtesy of the Chelyabinsk meteor.
"I was writing about near-Earth objects crashing into our planet when all of a sudden this piece of rock blew up in the upper atmosphere," Rollins says. "If it had struck the Earth with its full force, it would have hit with the kinetic energy equivalent to 20 to 30 Hiroshima bombs.
"It would have meant major devastation. And the scary part is we didn't even know it was coming. It felt a little bit prophetic. I was like, 'Is somebody up there looking over my shoulder while I'm writing?'"
"The Eye of God" (William Morrow, $27.99) is the author's ninth Sigma Force thriller.
It's a good starting point for the uninitiated, though, because Rollins jettisoned a multi-book story arc in last year's release and hit the "restart" button in this one.
Rollins' thrillers tend to have a little of everything in them.
Although grounded in hard-core scientific fact, they freely venture into science fiction. They seamlessly blend history, myth, theology and crackpot conspiracy theory. They are equal parts action, espionage, travelogue and romance.
Rollins explains his storytelling approach this way: "It's my sandbox and I want to play with all the toys that are out there."
Of course, it wouldn't be a James Rollins book if he didn't also reach back into history.
"There are two great historic treasures that are missing," he says. "One belonged to Attila the Hun, who was supposedly buried in a triple coffin of iron, silver and gold, with the treasure of his vast empire buried with him. Then there was Genghis Khan, who was supposedly buried with all the treasures of his vast conquests and conquered territories.
"I was like, 'Which story do I want to do?' Then I thought, 'What if these two mysteries could overlap in some way?' So I wrote about them both."
The Sigma team -- which includes reader favorites Gray Pierce, Monk Kokkalis and Joe Kowalski, along with a couple of newcomers -- must solve the Attila the Hun/Genghis Khan riddles before they'll be able to save Earth from a flaming rainstorm of space debris.
Oh, yeah, and did we mention that one new member of the team has magnetic fingertips? Rollins has woven that into the book, too.
As futuristic as it sounds, he says the technology, which allows users to sense objects with strong electromagnetic signatures, already exists.