Why Dinosaurs Became Extinct

Article excerpt

Byline: Philip Kopper, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Eureka! Here may be perfect proof of intelligent design: The creator limns our familiar Earth with its perilous deserts, and an embracing Milky Way vibrant with lethal asteroids and exotic life forms from malignant microorganisms of interstellar origin to a tragic (yup!) dinosaur. The creator reveals spectacular science and propels the action with more cliffhangers than germs in a sneeze, then populates the quotidian world with characters ranging from the virtuously angelic to the angelically evil. (Remember: Satan was a fallen angel. Oh yes, and the creator is really the author, Douglas Preston.)

Previously in "The Codex," he narrated a cat-and-mouse game between rival archaeologically savvy treasure hunters seeking a lost Mayan city in a Mesoamerican jungle populated by hostile natives. That archeo-anthro-techno thriller is now followed by this paleo-astro techno thriller, "Tyrannosaur Canyon," set in rugged New Mexico where the women are brave and the men are thinkers, including one grizzled guy who leads a pack mule through the Ansel Adams rockscapes seemingly prospecting for gold.

Yet all is not what it seems - starting with the prospector's trek, which winds down when he's shot dead at the bottom of a canyon on page four. That's right-quick after the prologue in which the real Apollo Astronaut Eugene Cernan has innocently launched Mr. Preston's labyrinthine plot by gathering certain rocks on his 1972 moon walk.

Yes, this fiction's scope rivals Google's, with characters as diverse as Dickens' and about as original as Horatio Alger's. There's a pair of Codex survivors, the millionaire veterinarian Tom Broadbent and his gun-friendly wife Sally, a beauty with such grit that she can navigate a labyrinth of gold mine tunnels without a flashlight when fleeing a mysogenic lunatic bent on violating her virtue. There's the homicidal ex-con Jimson "Weed" Maddox whose most interesting asset is a huge tattoo that dances the Cretaceous hula.

There's the dedicated mineralogist Melodie Crookshank, as plain and unappreciated as graph paper, who toils in a museum's lab discovering fossil contagions, and her superior, Dr. Iain Corvus, the ruthless curator who'll stop at nothing in his quest - for academic tenure. There's a novice monk, Wyman Ford, the ex-spy seeking solace in a desert monastery after his pregnant wife and partner in spookery was blown to kingdom come by a terrorist's car bomb in Cambodia. The list of symbolic names and stock caricatures runs on.

Contrived as all this is, the complex pieces fit so snugly that one might say they exemplify an intelligent design, while the potboiler percolates genuine heroics and some fascinating stuff. Surprise: The genuine heroes are the sciences per se and their hi-tech hardware, while fascinations lie in the actual discoveries of science and real mysteries of our Earth and universe. Mr. Preston, after all, once worked in New York's Museum of Natural History and wrote about science when he cut his teeth as an author. …