The Manufactured Messiah 

In James Rollins' new novel, prophets are made, not born.

Shot by an assassin, a homeless man dies in Washington, DC, clutching an ancient coin. Linked to the ancient Greek Oracle of Delphi, this relic leads investigators to discover that a sinister global think tank has been plotting since the Cold War to bioengineer the next great world prophet, scientifically manipulating autistic savants. In James Rollins' new thriller The Last Oracle, the question is whether this prophet would bring lasting peace or catastrophe.

A Sacramento veterinarian before he became a novelist, Rollins has pondered the depth and breadth of scientific possibility and its ethical consequences. "Human experimentation has often been cloaked in the 'greater good,' where the 'ends justify the means,'" he muses. "All nations, including the United States, have participated in human experimentation." Are some countries doing it right now? "In some corners of the world, I don't doubt that they are," he affirms, "especially with those children [who are] disenfranchised, like the poor, the mentally ill, or the disabled. Do other nations perhaps turn a blind eye to such experiments? I don't doubt that, too." Rollins — who will discuss his string of bestsellers, including Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, at Clayton Books (5433D Clayton Rd., Clayton) on Friday, July 25 — was partly inspired by the books of autistic fellow veterinarian Temple Grandin: "It is her contention ... that pivotal advancements in human history have come about because of those rare individuals born with savant talents, whose unique way of looking at life have altered the course of mankind. So it made me wonder: What if someone gained control of that power?" Rollins' other books include The Judas Strain, in which a devastating plague emerges from the Indian Ocean, Map of Bones, in which gunmen steal the relics of the Three Magi from Cologne's cathedral, and Black Order, in which Nepalese Buddhist monks become torturers and cannibals. Each blends history with scientific developments that menace mankind. "Technology is not all cogs and wheels," Rollins explains. "There is a human cost to every bit of technology. It regularly tests society's moral compass." He really wonders not what science will do, "but how it will change us. And ... will we even have a voice in this evolution?"

Last year, LucasArts chose him to write the novelization of the new Indiana Jones film. "I had a blast," remembers Rollins, who describes himself as "a fan of Indy since the opening frame of Raiders of the Lost Ark. ... Still, it was somewhat intimidating to step into Indy's shoes, smash on that fedora, and grab that bullwhip — especially with the level of secrecy involved in this project. Once I got going, I found myself leaping, running, and snapping that bullwhip like an old pro." 7 p.m. ClaytonBookshop.com

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