Lincoln Child's "Terminal Freeze"

The backcover splat basically sells Terminal Freeze as scientists in an abandoned sonar research lab in the arctic are eaten by frozen sabretooth tiger.  Throw in a documentary crew who’s there to reveal the defrosted beast, live from the arctic, and you know there’s going to be people dying left and right. There’s also an ice road trucker added to the mix and an almost extinct tribe of Native Americans that hung around just long enough to tell us the back story and why man should not meddle with things he was not meant to know.

Magically, the ice the sabretooth is in defrosts itself and the animal inside is still alive.  This  is a bit hard to believe, but it’s supposed to be this special alternate form of ice (ice XV), so it’s just barely plausible.  The problem starts around the first time the beast attacks someone and its pretty clear from the description, its not just a sabretooth, it’s a sabretooth that can disorient its prey and navigate in the dark with sound. Alright, killer big cat that sees with sound.  Sonar is well established in some animals, but not in big cats. This is really really unlikely, but semi-plausible…

That it uses sound isn’t explicitly explained until much, much later in the book, but is fairly obvious from the writing what’s going on if you’ve ever ready anything about sonic weapons.   That’s they’re in a sonar research lab that had something go Horribly Wrong makes the guess pretty easy. However, this isn’t the most fantastic element of the monster…

The speculative science aspect is part of what I enjoy about these types of books, since I may go read some serious science about the subject later. When Lincoln Child wrote Terminal Freeze, ice XV had not actually been discovered.  About 5 months later, it had been and it had none of the properties it did in the book, but the majority of people probably never knew ice had alternate stuctures to begin with, so it doesn’t matter. The real ice XV also didn’t do exactly what scientists had predicted, so the speculation about it wasn’t entirely unjustified.  Maybe ice XVI  or ice XVII will work like the fictional ice XV.

The problem with Terminal Freeze, however, is that ice XV wasn’t the only aspect that was semi-plausible.  There’s only so many convenient coincidences and so much hand waving you can take.  It’s easier to hand wave things if they’re at least related to each other.  The problem here is there’s too many unrelated elements thrown in that sort of kind of work, but not quite.    Technothrillers rely on being familiar enough so it all seems plausible.   Either the ice XV OR a mutant beast using infrasound to hunt would have been plenty.  Neither concept is really familiar to most people, so they could have stood easily on their own.   You can only suspend disbelief so much and with unrelated elements, it becomes a lot harder to do so.   Even if you read this as a horror novel rather than a technothriller, its still got about one too many elements that require suspending disbelief.

Overall it was an amusing book and I was probably overthinking it.  If you’re looking for a read that will keep you engrossed on a trip, this isn’t a bad choice, but there are other books that do people eaten by horrible monsters better, including Child’s own book Relic (cowritten with Douglas Preston).  I suspect trying to make this NOT look like The Relic:Arctic Edition accounts for some of the extraneous elements in here, to try and make the arctic itself as big a menace as the monster.  Relic is even referenced in Terminal Freeze, so they’re clearly the same world.  The final explanation to try and tie up all the loose ends really seems out of place and could easily have been chopped out.  I would have preferred it without that final explanation as it really didn’t fit in very well with the overall feel of book. If you look at this as a horror book, the final explanation is also TOTALLY out of place and has no business being in this genre.

It did however introduce me to alternate crystal structures of ice, which are COOL,  so it was worth it just for that.

If you were really hoping for people to be eaten by actual sabretooth tigers, try Jeff Rovin‘s Fatalis, where they eat people in Los Angelos.