Today I am interviewing James Rollin, author of the new thriller novel, Crucible, fourteenth book in the Sigma Force series.
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DJ: Hi James! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
James Rollins: What many readers might not know about me is that I can still neuter a cat in under thirty seconds. While my full-time job nowadays is writer, before that I was a veterinarian. I always resent when I’m introduced as “former veterinarian,” as I still do some volunteer work as local shelters helping with spaying and neutering. Beyond this hobby of removing genitalia, I also enjoy a pursuit that started back in my college years, namely caving. So besides hiding behind a surgical mask, you can often find me far underground, sometimes stuck in a tunnel that was narrower than I thought.
DJ: What is Crucible and then the Sigma Force series about?
James: Sigma Force is a team of former special forces soldiers who have been drummed out of the service for various reasons. But because of special aptitudes and abilities, they’ve been recruited in secret by DARPA—the Defense Department’s research-and-development agency—and retrained in various scientific disciplines to act as field agents for DARPA. Their mission is to protect the globe against various emerging threats. Basically, they’re scientists with guns.
In Crucible, the team is faced by one of their most daunting—yet personal—adventures of the entire series. On Christmas Eve, a pair of Sigma Force teammates arrive home after a night of carousing to find their home ransacked and their respective lovers kidnapped, along with the two young daughters of one of the men. This attack is connected to a real-world threat, one that Stephen Hawking once described as the “worst event in the history of civilization.” That Elon Musk fears will lead to World War III. Even Russian president Vladimir Putin has said that whoever controls this event will control the world. That event is the creation of the first human-like artificial intelligence.
DJ: What were some of your influences for the Sigma Force series?
James: One of my greatest influences for all of my writing is Michael Crichton. I even had a copy of Jurassic Park above my writing desk when I tackled my first novel. That book served as a template for my first sojourn into writing—and continues to do so. For Sigma Force specifically, I also lean into my love of the old pulp novels of the thirties and forties, especially the adventures of Doc Savage that were reprinted as Bantam paperbacks in the seventies and eighties. That series concerns a crack team of scientists in various fields who must thwart various nefarious world threats—which pretty much describes Sigma Force.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
James: After so many years writing these characters, they’ve grown to be as close as family. There’s Commander Grayson Pierce who leads the Sigma team on field missions. Like his name implies—Gray—is a blend of opposites: a soldier and scientist, a man raised Catholic but who appreciates all religions for the lessons in their teachings. His mind is unique, capable of putting disparate parts into new configurations in order to solve puzzles and see matters in an entirely new light. He is paired up with an unlikely lover, Seichan, a former assassin for a terrorist organization, who is now carrying his child. His best friend is Monk Kokkalis, who knows how to temper Gray’s steel with heart and soul. Monk also lost a hand that was replaced with a state-of-the-art, military-grade prosthetic, a device that is unique and packs quite the punch. Then there is Kowalski—a true gorilla of a man with a face to match—someone who is as deft with a one-liner as he is with explosives. In Crucible, new allies and old enemies also add to the mayhem, each bringing their own abilities and animosities into the fray.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the the Sigma Force series like?
James: Sigma Force takes place in present time, in the real world. I try to make each story topical, to bring that “ripped from the headlines” vibe to each book. My goal is to ground the readers into the familiar—then take them somewhere amazing, offering a glimpse just beyond the horizon. And while the stories peer into the future, each book also reaches into the past, to some historical mystery, a piece of history that ends in a question mark, something I can solve within the pages of the novel. In doing so, I hope this bridge from the past to the present will offer a glimpse to where we’re headed next.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the previous books of the Sigma Force series? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
James: The reviews have been uniformly great, which as a writer I couldn’t be more thrilled about. But I don’t lean on these past laurels. With each and every book, I try my best to surpass what’s come before, and I think with Crucible, I’ve written my best work to date—and the early reviews seem to support this. As to the aspects of my work that strike a chord, I think one is the humor found in the books. I think it catches readers off guard; it’s something surprising and welcoming, especially in stories that have an apocalyptic edge to them. I also think readers have grown to think of these characters as family members. I get notes from readers all the time, saying how much a certain character reminds them of themselves or a close relative. But most of all, the one aspect of my stories that’s most appealing to readers and reviewers is the startling and true revelations found in my books—whether it be about the history or the science featured in the novel. In fact, at the end of each of my books, I include a “What’s True and What’s Not” afterword, where I pull aside the curtain to reveal the sources behind the story, while also laying down some breadcrumbs for the curious to follow.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Crucible?
James: In several of my books, I’ve written sections from odd points of view. It’s something I enjoy doing. I’ve written scenes looking through the eyes of a military war dog, to put my readers into the paws of these unique soldiers. In another book, I did the same with a young sign-language speaking mountain gorilla. In Crucible, I introduce another strange character, one that has already endeared herself to many early readers. Her name is Eve. She’s a burgeoning artificial intelligence, and throughout the novel, readers will see her grow from a cold, alien intelligence—into something miraculous and human, which will challenge the question: What does it mean to have a soul?
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
James: Besides Eve—it would have to be Adam. Yes, there’s an Adam in this book who shares Eve’s digital Eden. He is not what you expect—and he will break your heart. But I also think the last two pages of the novel will stay with readers long after they close the book. I’ve already heard from two reviewers who were shocked—and awed—by those final two pages.
DJ: Did you have a goal when you began writing the Sigma Force series? The series is not yet complete, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
James: First and foremost, I write to entertain. That is my primary goal, to create a book that has to be read until the wee hours of the morning, a book that gets the blood pumping and the eyes straining for the next page. But I also firmly believe to construct such a novel, it’s important that the characters be real, and the subject matter be relevant. That’s one of the reasons, I set my thrillers in the real world and embroil them in threats and dangers that could truly arise. I also think it’s important to leave readers with something to contemplate after they turn that last page. One of the best compliments I get from readers is when they state that a certain novel intrigued them enough to explore on their own some detail raised in that book, to follow one of those breadcrumbs I leave behind in the afterword. Then I know I’ve done my job well: to entertain, to intrigue, but also to leave something to explore afterward.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes from Crucible that you can share with us?
James: I also like to collect quotes. There are two at the front of the book that I particularly enjoy. One is an ancient proverb from Galicia in Spain: “I don’t believe in witches, but they do exist.” I open the book with this quote because Crucible also deals with the persecution of women throughout the ages: from healers in the past who were burned at the stake for daring to question the natural world …to the sexism experienced by female scientists today. And the second quote—one from Arthur C. Clarke—addresses what is considered modern-day witchcraft: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
As to a quote from my story, I like this one: “Change is good. To be static is a path to stagnation and regression. Life is evolution.”
DJ: Now that Crucible is released, what is next for you?
James: I mentioned writing scenes from the point of view of military war dog. His name is Kane, and you’ll be seeing more of him and his handler, Captain Tucker Wayne, in an upcoming new novella. I’m also hard at work on next year’s Sigma thriller. It’s a massive story with ramifications that will leave the team forever changed—and possible each and every reader. And the scene I just wrote yesterday…oh yeah, this story will be a gut punch. That’s all I can say.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/James-Rollins/e/B001H6U9DE
Author Newsletter: https://jamesrollins.com/contact/newsletter/
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Crucible and the Sigma Force series that we haven’t talked about yet?
James: One question I get asked a lot is: Do you have to read the series in the order they were written? The answer is categorically NO. I specifically structure each novel to be read as if you’ve never read a prior Sigma novel. In fact, I imagine only a few people have read my series in order. Typically they jump in whenever a cover or title intrigues them—and hopefully they’ll be hooked enough to go back and check out the earlier stories. And this is definitely true for Crucible. If you’ve never read one of my books, this story is a perfect place to hop in and see what it’s all about.
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*** Crucible is published by William Morrow and is available TODAY!!! ***
Buy the Book:
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In the race to save one of their own, Sigma Force must wrestle with the deepest spiritual mysteries of mankind in this mind-expanding adventure from the #1 New York Times bestselling author, told with his trademark blend of cutting edge science, historical mystery and pulse-pounding action.
Arriving home on Christmas Eve, Commander Gray Pierce discovers his house ransacked, his pregnant lover missing, and his best friend’s wife, Kat, unconscious on the kitchen floor. With no shred of evidence to follow, his one hope to find the woman he loves and his unborn child is Kat, the only witness to what happened. But the injured woman is in a semi-comatose state and cannot speak—until a brilliant neurologist offers a radical approach to “unlock” her mind long enough to ask a few questions.
What Pierce learns from Kat sets Sigma Force on a frantic quest for answers that are connected to mysteries reaching back to the Spanish Inquisition and to one of the most reviled and blood-soaked books in human history—a Medieval text known as the Malleus Maleficarum, the Hammer of Witches. What they uncover hidden deep in the past will reveal a frightening truth in the present and a future on the brink of annihilation, and force them to confront the ultimate question: What does it mean to have a soul?
About the Author:
James Rollins is a #1 New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers, translated into more than forty languages. His Sigma series has been lauded as one of the “top crowd pleasers” (New York Times) and one of the “hottest summer
reads” (People Magazine). In each novel, acclaimed for its originality, Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets–and he does it all at breakneck speed and with stunning insight.
Known for building high-octane adventures on a solid science foundation, Jim juxtaposes the familiar with the exotic and then turbo-charges his tales with suspense. Always mindful of history’s legacy, Jim reveals how secrets, some hidden for centuries, can change the course of human events. His novels explore how advancing technology can impact society – not just the physical threats of unchecked developments, but also the spiritual and moral challenges that result. “The true terror of technology is not the cogs and the wheels, but how it will change us,” he says.