James Rollins’ books are usually categorized as thrillers, but most of them could easily be labeled science fiction. An instant bestseller, his latest novel, Crucible, is no exception, revolving around the effort to control Eve, an artificial super-intelligence invented by a Portuguese graduate student, Mara Silviera.
On one side of the conflict is a secret sect, the Crucibulum. The spiritual descendents of the Spanish Inquisition, the members of the Crucibulum consider female scientists like Mara to be heretics and witches. On the other side is Sigma Force, a group of former soldiers working for the Defense Department’s research and development arm. This is Rollins’ 14th novel featuring Sigma Force.
When the Crucibulum steal Eve and order her to destroy Paris, the only way Sigma Force can hope to prevent disaster is by unleashing Eve’s equal: a second Eve.
The two Eves represent the risks and rewards of the singularity, Rollins tells me on the new episode of New Books in Science Fiction. The bad Eve is a super-intelligence run amok, one who will do anything—including destroying its human inventors—in a fight to survive. The good Eve, who sides with Sigma Force, represents the hope that “the singularity will be a boon to mankind,” Rollins says.
Rollins concedes that genre categories are sometimes arbitrary. “When I wrote my first novel, Subterranean, I thought I was writing a science fiction novel,” he says. “My editor … said, ‘Hey, we’re going sell this as a modern-day thriller,’ and I said, ‘What about those telepathic marsupial creatures that live under Antarctica?’ and she said, ‘You set your story in modern times, and you have enough scientific basis for those telepathic marsupial creatures, so therefore we’re just going to pitch you as a thriller writer.’”