By James Rollins
Published by William Morrow
July 2003; 0-060-52156-2; 416 pages
Always respect Mother Nature ... especially when she weighs four hundred pounds and is guarding her baby.
Matthew Pike faced the grizzly from fifty yards away. The massive she-bear eyed him back, chuffing into the breeze. Her yearling cub nosed a blackberry briar, but it was too early in the season for berries. The cub was just playing in the brambles, oblivious to the six-foot-two Fish and Game officer standing, sweating, in the afternoon sun. But the youngster had little to fear when watched over by his mother. Her muscled bulk, yellowed teeth, and four-inch claws were protection enough.
Matt's moist palm rested on his holstered canister of pepper spray. His other hand slowly shifted to the rifle slung on his shoulder. Don't charge, sweetheart ... don't make this day any worse than it already is. He'd had enough trouble with his own dogs earlier and had left them tethered back at his campsite.
As he watched, her ears slowly flattened to her skull. Her back legs bunched as she bounced a bit on her front legs. It was clear posturing, a stance meant to chase off any threat.
Matt held back a groan. How he wanted to run, but he knew to do so would only provoke the she-bear to chase him down. He risked taking a single slow step backward, careful to avoid the snap of a twig. He wore an old pair of moosehide boots, hand-sewn by his ex-wife, a skill learned from her Inuit father. Though they were three years divorced, Matt appreciated her skill now. The soft soles allowed him to tread quietly.
He continued his slow retreat.
Normally, when one encountered a bear in the wild, the best defense was loud noises: shouts, catcalls, whistles, anything to warn the normally reclusive predators away. But to stumble upon this sow and cub when topping a rise, running face-to-face into Ursus arctos horribilis, any sudden movement or noise could trigger the maternal beast to charge. Bear attacks numbered in the thousands each year in Alaska, including hundreds of fatalities. Just two months ago, he and a fellow warden had run a tributary of the Yukon River in kayaks, searching for two rafters reported late in returning home, only to discover their half-eaten remains.
So Matt knew bears. He knew to watch for fresh bear signs whenever hiking: unsettled dung, torn-up sod, clawed trunks of trees. He carried a bear whistle around his neck and pepper spray at his belt. And no one with any wits entered the Alaskan backcountry without a rifle. But as Matt had learned during his ten-year stint among the parks and lands of Alaska, out here the unexpected was commonplace. In a state bigger than Texas, with most of its lands accessible only by floatplane, the wildernesses of Alaska made the wild places of the lower states seem like nothing more than Disney theme parks: domesticated, crowded, commercialized. But here nature ruled in all its stark and brutal majesty.
Of course, right now, Matt was hoping for a break on the brutal part. He continued his cautious retreat. The she-bear kept her post. Then the small male cub -- if you could call a hundred-and-fifty-pound ball of fur and muscle small -- finally noticed the stranger nearby. It rose on its hind legs, looking at him. It shimmied and tossed its head about, male aggression made almost comical. Then it did the one thing Matt prayed it wouldn't do. It dropped on all fours and loped toward him, more in play and curiosity than with any aggressive intent. But it was a deadly move nonetheless.
While Matt did not fear the yearling cub -- a blast of pepper spray would surely stop it in its tracks -- its mother's response was a different matter. The pepper spray would be no more than a tenderizing seasoning when her pile-driver strength pounded down on him. And forget about a head shot, even with his Marlin sport rifle. The bear's thick skull would only deflect the bullet. Not even a shot square through the heart was a safe bet. It would take ten minutes for such a shot to kill a bear, and the shooter would be bear scat by then. The only real way to kill a grizzly was to aim for the legs, bring her bulk down, then keep on shooting.
And despite the personal danger, Matt was loath to do this. The grizzlies were his personal totem. They were the symbol of this country. With their numbers dwindling to less than twenty-five thousand, he could not bring himself to kill even one of them. In fact, he had come to Brooks Range on his own personal time to help in the cataloging and DNA mapping of the parkland's population of awakening grizzlies, fresh out of winter's blanket. He had been up here collecting samples from hair traps stationed throughout the remote areas of the park and freshening their foul-smelling scent lures when he found himself in this predicament.
But now Matt was faced with the choice of kill or be killed. The cub bounded merrily in his direction. His mother growled in warning -- but Matt was not sure if she was talking to him or her cub. Either way, his retreat sped up, one foot fumbling behind the other. He shrugged his rifle into one hand and unholstered his pepper spray.
As he struggled with the spray's flip top, a fierce growl rose behind him. Matt glanced over his shoulder. On the trail behind him, a dark shape raced at him, tail flagging in the air.
Matt's eyes grew wide with recognition. Bane! No!" The black dog pounded up the slope, hackles raised, a continual growl flowing from his throat ...
Buried deep in the earth's polar ice cap -- carved into a moving island of ice twice the size of the United States -- is a secret place, the site of a remarkable abandoned experiment that could have frightening ramifications for the planet. The brain trust of the former Soviet Union who created the seventy-year-old Ice Station Grendel would like it simply to melt from human memory. But that becomes impossible when an American undersea research vessel, the Polar Sentinel, inadvertently pulls too close to the hollowed-out iceberg ... and one of the crew sees something alive inside. Something that never should have survived.
It is a discovery that sends shock waves through the intelligence communities of two powerful nations, as American and Russian scientists, soldiers, and unsuspecting civilians are pulled into Grendel's lethal vortex of secrets, violence, and betrayal. To preserve the silence -- to prevent others from uncovering the terrible mysteries locked behind submerged walls of ice and steel -- no measures will be too extreme. For within the station, experiments have blurred the line between life and death. It was a place never meant to be found.
One man already knows too much: Matthew Pike, a former American Special Forces operative, living in seclusion in Alaska on the edge of the Arctic Circle. On the run after rescuing the survivor of a plane crash no one was meant to observe, Pike is relentlessly drawn into the eye of the gathering storm -- even as a Russian nuclear attack submarine draws silently nearer to the men and women on the Polar Sentinel. The covert battle over Grendel is spinning out of control, and the future of all human life on Earth will be altered -- or destroyed -- once its nightmarish truths are revealed.
A masterful blending of science and adventure, suspense and explosive page-turning excitement, James Rollins's Ice Hunt is a novel that will chill readers to the bone, holding them in its icy grip from the first sentence to its final startling twist.(back to top)
James Rollins (which is a pseudonym for Jim Czajkowski) was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1961. With his three brothers and three sisters, he was raised in the Midwest and rural Canada. He holds a doctorate in veternary medicine from the University of Missouri, which he earned in 1985. For ten years he ran a clinic in Sacramento, practicing 60-70 hours a week and writing three pages a day. The author is an amateur spelunker and scuba enthusiast and still lives and writes in Sacramento, California.