The Lost City of the Monkey God has all of the elements of a great adventure novel, and yet, it's non-fiction. There’s a mythical lost city said to contain untold treasure. There’s a curse. Add some political intrigue in the form of a coup and an unstable government. Throw in a “fixer” with a more-than-checkered past. Build a team that includes the requisite former special forces soldiers whose job it is to train the mix of scientists, film crew, photographer and journalist to stay alive, and pit them against venomous snakes, insects and disease. But even before they enter the jungle, they're set against nearly insurmountable odds that they would even find the location of the lost city, much less reach it and explore it before it is looted. And once the possible site is located, put it in an area known for drug traffickers and bandits… and who wouldn’t grab that book off the shelf?
Douglas Preston is a seasoned writer who undertook an assignment from National Geographic to travel into some of the most remote and inhospitable jungles on earth to document the search for a site known alternately as the White City and the City of the Monkey God. His journey actually starts with the efforts to locate the site. And here he introduces a new hero to the genre that is familiar to surveyors and geospatial professionals: LiDAR.
The project begins in secrecy, not only to protect the suspected location of the site, but also because of the sensitivity of the technology that would be employed. As the geospatial community fully appreciates, LiDAR technology has, at times, been restricted from export. Getting permission to fly a plane fitted with a LiDAR scanner into an unstable third-world country was a monumental undertaking in itself and could have put a halt to the project before it even started. A condition of the permit was that the plane and the LiDAR remain under military guard around the clock.
The flights and the data collection that would ultimately determine the location of the site sound almost routine now. Interpreting the data collected at the time seemed pretty conclusive to those on the project, but that didn’t insulate them from challenges when they attempted to use the point cloud images to garner support for permits to enter the area, nor did it stave off criticism from others in the scientific community.
Preston’s account doesn’t spare any of the trials or challenges faced throughout the project. He puts the reader right in the middle of everything as it happens. If you’ve ever enjoyed any of the “Indiana Jones” adventures, you’ll get a full dose of the reality that comes with this authentic archaeological thriller. (Did I mention there’s a cameo appearance by Harrison Ford?) But in this case, you’ll be able to point to the characters and legitimately say, “I know that guy” – as long as you are pointing at the LiDAR.