Man, the most dangerous animal ever to roam the earth, destroys Siberia’s Pleistocene Park. Soviet scientists found human sperm on the skirt of a Neanderthal woman recovered from the permafrost. Sperm rapidly cooled to subzero temperatures in the sterile environment of pure ice, preserved like it would be in a modern sperm bank. When New York reporter Corky Mason returns to her Siberian homeland to visit a Russian paleontologist, she plans to cover a story about mammoths but unearths the frightening account of a prehistoric rape that casts a shadow over her. She learns that she might be the sister of four Cro-Magnon brothers born from the prehistoric sperm, brothers who murder people that threaten their freedom. They unleash the mammoths from the park and start a war with Russia’s secret police. On the run from the FSB, fighting Siberia’s turbulent elements at a time of global warming, starving polar bears and a ‘brother’ who thinks he’s a caveman, Corky fights for her life.Amazon $1.99 TrekkerPress; 1 edition (August 1, 2014)
Roger Pepper is a retired aerospace materials engineer with a love of science, travel, The Brothers Karamazov, the Arctic, Cro-Magnons, woolly mammoths and all sorts of cool things (and really, really cold things!).
If you love woolly mammoths, elephants and all things prehistoric and big, this novel is a must-read. Never mind that willing suspension of disbelief is a gargantuan “must” as well. Sure, there’s a lot of poetic license going on here, but as the award-winning speculative novelist E.E. Giorgi says, “… if you don’t allow an author his or her poetic license you’ll miss out on the most fantastic premises.”
“The Brothers Cro-Magnon” is imaginative and ambitious, fusing the prehistoric with contemporary biology and futuristic science. It’s an adventure, a hero’s journey, a quest. Catherine, aka Corky, is a New York reporter who was born in Siberia but given up for adoption and raised in America when her parents were killed. She’s traveled the world, endured the heat of the desert (so hot “she wore a burka without underwear”), reported from many an exotic location, but none so cold as this one. A tall, strong, cosmopolitan woman, she shivers on the helicopter “a short hop from the North Pole” and receives a furry hat from the short man seated beside her. I love the way she peeks at the journal this man is writing, unaware that the woman beside him can read his flattering observations about her because she’s fluent in several languages.
Stu Uhlig, with his German name and Native American coloring, is a great foil for Corky, so I’m happy to report that he remains part of this novel to the very end. Stu and Corky share line after great line of dialogue. One of my favorites:
“So, where did you get the funny name?” Uhlig asked.
Corky frowned, and glared.
“Er, I mean, where’d you get that great name,” he stammered.
“That’s better.” Unable to stop smiling, she recalled (the newspaper gang she worked with) calling her Corky because she’d collected corks over the years, when not dodging bullets.
Gotta love the way Corky, when Stu offers her the wolfskin cap, wants to say “no way would she wear the skin of an endangered species, but she’d tasted the warmth and couldn’t pluck off the hat.”
There’s more to love, love, love in this opening scene. A huge man with bushy hair and a beard, also a passenger on this flight, has no hat or gloves, his parka wide open. Smerdyakov, or Smerd, “had a huge barrel chest, arms as thick as tree trunks and the biggest pair of hands she’d ever seen.”
He’s not the only one. Eventually Cork meets all four Brothers Karamazov–oops, Cro-Magnon–Dmitri, Ivan, Fyodor and Pavel (or was it Alyosha?). The four brothers, created from ancient sperm that survived being frozen in the body of a rape victim, loom large in this novel. So too does the disturbing possibility that Corky might be the sister of this quartet of murderous mad men.
She also meets the Russian Secret Service and a pack of hungry polar bears who guard a remote laboratory of cloned mammoths, and a captor who forces our heroine into a miserable prison cell until — well, you’ll have to read for yourself how she escapes.
You won’t want to miss the baby mammoth scene. What could have been the most terrifying, bloody and brutal scene in the novel becomes the most moving and memorable.
Pepper’s larger-than-life cast of characters also includes real-life people. I love the Dolgons, a marginalized people “from the other side of the tracks, a much maligned minority. Stalin persecuted the nomads. He made them Soviet citizens so he could draft them into the army.” Corky’s first encounter with them is chilling in more ways than a thermometer could indicate.
Great story, great characters, great premise, however fantastical – what’s not to love? Pepper’s enthusiasm for his subjects is infectious. He writes with passion and rich, descriptive detail, even if his prose may not show the mastery of a Dostoevsky or even a Tom Clancy. This novel is riveting and entertaining, even if the prose is a little awkward at times, and the descriptions may exhaust contemporary readers who didn’t grow up with the epic page count of 19thCentury literature.
I’ll suspend disbelief for a novel like this any time.