State of Fear – Michael Crichton

This is the first Crichton novel I have had a hard time finishing. Somewhere in the middle, I just lost interest. It’s a decent story, but frequently disjointed and muddled. Very much unlike Crichton’s usual very focused style. Thankfully, it does pick up at the end, and Crichton is never really a bad author.

As with all Crichton’s novels, there is a central theme. This time it’s global warning. In an interesting twist, the author takes a dissenting opinion. While the views of characters should never be mistaken for being the same as the author’s, Crichton does make himself quite clear in the afterword. Put simply, he claims there is not enough research to prove global warming one way or another. Interesting. It should be noted that Crichton likes his scholarly afterwords and bibliographies. I have learned to take them with a pinch of salt.

The story revolves around an aging philanthropist, his young lawyer, and a large environmental organization. As the book progresses, it becomes clear that the environmentalist organization intends to influence public opinion by attempting to control natural phenomena. For example, they wish to create a flash flood to focus attention on global warming. Crichton writes characters and their interactions with each other and technology with his usual skill.

It is important to remember the title. I don’t think Crichton wrote State of Fear as a treatise on global warming. The point of the novel (apart from entertainment of course) is twofold: First, instill some healthy skepticism about accepting any “accepted truth”. Secondly, discuss how the “powers that be” need society to fear something in order to keep it in check. A central passage in the book deals with this explictly. With the media as a willing messenger, fear is brought home to the public. Current western society is as safe as it has ever been, and yet people are irrationally fearful of many things. Maybe that’s because they are constantly hammered with wall to wall coverage of murder, war, climate change and assorted doom. It’s not that the Cold War or Global Warming are only in our minds, but the way such phenomena are “sold” to us is full of hyperbole and fearmongering.

Be skeptical. Crichton subtly reminds the reader of this with the last tongue-in-cheek point of his afterword: “Everybody has an agenda. Except me.”

What I really liked was the sheer contrarianism of the whole thing. The environmentalists are portrayed as dissention squashing fanatics. The movement is anything but grass roots, but feeds on a vast mass of donations, much of it from rich but perhaps misguided individuals who need something to do. Those asking for clear, untainted evidence are hung out as traitors to the Earth. No matter how you feel about global warming, it’s an interesting read just for that. As a thriller, though, it is only fair to middling. Crichton has done better.

Prey – Michael Crichton

Crichton takes on nanotechnology in his usual “one-week story” format. Exciting and with some neat tech stuff but not particularly deep. This sort of thing has an irresistible appeal for a geek like me . Genetics, computers, nanotech, all rolled into one. Pity the book isn’t that good.

Timeline – Michael Crichton

A corporation has developed a way to send people back in time. Something weird has happened, so a group of scholars is sent back to investigate. Needless to say, Bad Things happen. Well researched and written, and very hard to put down.

Disclosure – Michael Crichton

You know it’s Crichton when the chapter headings are days (all in same two weeks or so). I keep coming back to Crichton despite his rather formulaic plots. The guy is a dialogue genius, and his dependency on describing what is, at the time of writing, cutting edge technology, is always good for nostalgia.

This book is way better than Crichton’s norm. Really quite a gripping page turner. The movie is pretty good too.

Sphere – Michael Crichton

It’s another BDO (Big Dumb Object) story! Not the best Crichton. An large sphere is found underwater. Divers are sent down to investigate. Strange things happen. Gee, wasn’t this plot copied for Clarke and Lee’s “Cradle“? Anyway, fun for the SciFi and Crichton buff, and probably ok for everyone else. On a side note, the movie is actually pretty decent. Scary in that Alien way.

Airframe – Michael Crichton

An aircraft encounters severe turbulence and one person dies. At least, that’s what people think happened. The novel follows the investigation by the manufacturer. A “bad” result could mean death for the company

If you are interested in aviation, you should definitely pick this one up. And even if you are not, it is good reading.As usual, Crichton shows how well he can describe corporate environments.

Congo – Michael Crichton

As usual, Crichton serves up a fast paced book in which the plot spans only a couple of days. The ideas are quite fascinating, from the long discussions about what are now very archaic computers to the insightful look into primate psychology. I enjoy Crichton’s work, but his books always leave me wanting more depth.

Rising Sun – Michael Crichton

Thriller set in the corporate world of Los Angeles. A murder has been committed in the boardroom of a large Japanese corporation, just prior to a major deal. An old detective with “Japanese experience” is teamed up with a younger man to solve the murder. Masterfully told, if a bit dated due to the heavy use of old computer jargon and technology as plot points.

The Terminal Man – Michael Crichton

The table of contents reveals the traditional Chrichtonian day-by-day format, with the story laid out over four days. The plot is about a man who is implanted with a device that gives pleasure in order to control violent seizures. The man goes on a murderous rampage as he learns to control the pleasurable impulses.

It’s typical Crichton. Briefly entertaining. I find it a lot of fun to read about the technologies, even dated as they are. Crichton is heavily into using very contemporary gadgets and looking into their philosophical implications. So while his novels date fast, they provide an interesting insight into what concerned people at the time of writing.

The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton

Formulaic like pretty much all other Crichton books, but without the redeeming quality of page-turning excitement present in his later works. This story of a satellite falling back to Earth after picking up an alien, and dangerous, organism has aged very badly. I can forgive the aged subject matter. Unfortunately, and as opposed to other Crichton books, I didn’t care at all about the characters. There were times when I couldn’t even tell them apart. Still, having read his later works it was interesting to see how it all started. Hints of the author’s future style are discernible in the text. And since it is a very short read it wasn’t too taxing.