James Rollins is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of international thrillers. His writing has been translated into more than forty languages and has sold more than 20 million books. The New York Times says, “Rollins is what you might wind up with if you tossed Michael Crichton and Dan Brown into a particle accelerator together.” NPR calls his work, “Adventurous and enormously engrossing.” Rollins unveils unseen worlds, scientific breakthroughs, and historical secrets matched with stunning suspense. As a veterinarian, he had a practice in Sacramento for over a decade and still volunteers at local shelters.
Q. Tides of Fire sounds like a riveting thriller, set on an international research station in the Coral Sea. What can you tell us about it?
James: I describe it as an epic disaster movie in novel format. As an entire region of the world is on the precipice of geological collapse, Sigma Force must contend with the discovery of a bizarre ecosystem miles beneath the ocean, while far above the United States and China vie for dominance both across the seas of Southeast Asia and in a race for the moon. At the same time, an old enemy of Sigma resurfaces with their own agenda. The key to everything ties back to the eruption of Mount Tambora in the nineteenth century and to the rich mythology and aboriginal belief systems of Australia’s First Peoples. How that all hangs together? You gotta read the book. It’s one wild rollercoaster ride both under the sea and across a burning region of the world.
Q. Tides of Fire marks the latest addition to your successful Sigma Force series. What inspired the central plot and themes of this new installment, and how does it connect with the overarching narrative of the series?
James: I’m always looking for two things when I concoct a story: a bit of science that makes me go “what if?” and some historical mystery that I might be able to tackle within the pages of a book. For Tides of Fire, the science covers the current space race going on between the United States and China and the strange biology of corals, cephalopods, and the bizarre life forms found in the planet’s deepest trenches. As to the history, the central mystery of the novel ties back to the vicious competition among naturalists in Southeast Asia during the nineteenth century and into the secrets buried in the stories and myths of the First Peoples of Australia.
Q. The locations in your novels often play a significant role in the story. Can you share some details about the settings in Tides of Fire and the research you conducted to bring them to life?
James: The story mainly takes place across the breadth of Southeast Asia, both on the surface and deep beneath the sea. I’ve spent considerable time in Australia, both diving on the Great Barrier Reef and exploring Aboriginal mythology. It was those trips that inspired me to write this book. The story itself opens in Hong Kong, where I was able to visit many of the actual locations. Also featured prominently are a series of museums in both Singapore and Java. I was able to visit the natural history museum in Singapore, and after writing this story, I’m anxious to visit Java’s history museum, too.
Q. The Sigma Force characters have grown and evolved throughout the series. How do the events in Tides of Fire challenge and develop the characters, both individually and as a team?
James: What I love best about writing a series is that you get to explore the larger arc of a character’s life, something you can’t necessarily do with a stand-alone adventure. While I love to build a rollercoaster of an adventure, to truly keep a reader in suspense, readers must grow attached to the characters that I put through the gristmill of a story. And an ongoing series is a great way to endear a character to a reader. In my last Sigma novel (Kingdom of Bones), one major character was sidelined, namely Seichan—a former assassin and now ally to Sigma. After publication, I received a slew of emails demanding her return. And of course, I listened—though in truth her return was always planned. Plus, in this new novel, an old enemy of Seichan and Sigma resurfaces to add stress to an already contentious situation.
Q. Your novels are known for their scientific and historical elements. In Tides of Fire, what specific scientific or historical aspects were particularly fascinating or challenging to incorporate into the story?
James: I’ve already mentioned some of the scientific and historical aspects of the novel. But what I’ve left unsaid—and what is probably the most revelatory aspect of the novel—is that Tides of Fire also explores a question that continues to confound all people: Are we alone in the universe? I’m sure I’m not the only one to note the sudden declassification of huge volumes of documents by the Pentagon regarding UAPs (Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon). The military has also established a new agency to explore such phenomenon in greater detail. As a writer who loves mysteries and secrets, all this sudden uptick in released information has made me wonder: Is the government trying to prepare us for something? In Tides of Fire, you’re about to find out.
Q. For readers who are new to the Sigma Force series, can Tides of Fire be enjoyed as a standalone novel? What elements from previous books do you think are essential for newcomers to understand before diving into this latest installment?
James: I suspect few people have actually read my series in the order they were written. I purposefully construct my Sigma stories so a new reader can jump in anywhere and not feel lost. This is certainly true with Tides of Fire. Whatever old backstory or previous plot elements are needed to appreciate the novel, I’m going to lay it all out for that new reader—or that old reader who might have forgotten some details between various novels.
Q. What’s next?
James: I just finished up, The Obsidian Dragon, the third book in the Moonfall Saga, an epic fantasy set on a world that stopped turning ages ago, leaving one side forever sunblasted and the other eternally frozen in darkness. I’m also working on the next Sigma book, which picks up immediately after the explosive conclusion to Tides of Fire.
James Rollins's Latest
The Titan Project—an international research station off the coast of Australia—discovers a thriving zone of life in an otherwise dead sea. The area teems with a strange bioluminescent coral that defies science, yet holds great promise for the future. But the loss of a military submarine in the area triggers a brutal attack and sets in motion a geological disaster that destabilizes an entire region.
Massive quakes, volcanic eruptions, and deadly tsunamis herald a greater cataclysm to come—for something is stirring miles under the ocean, a threat hidden for millennia.
As seas turn toxic and coastlines burn, can Sigma Force stop what has been let loose—especially as an old adversary returns, hunting them and thwarting their every move? For any hope of success, Commander Gray Pierce must search for a key buried in the past, hidden deep in Aboriginal mythology. But what Sigma could uncover is even more frightening—something that will shake the very foundations of humanity.