Friday, August 31, 2007

Review: State of Fear

Back in 2004, Michael Crichton released a novel entitled State of Fear. It was a fictional story dealing with global warming and the related environmental movements. Additionally, because it presented so many facts which contradicted Al Gore's movie, it was met with fairly onerous reviews and criticisms from climate scientists.

I can admit, I haven't read all of Mr. Crichton's novels. In fact there are more that I've not read than that I have, and you may also be wondering about its inclusion in the reviews section of this website, dedicated as it is to science/speculative fiction.

So, let's deal with that right off the bat. Mr. Crichton is a science fiction author; much more so than David Weber or anything labeled Star Wars. His stories are based on recognizable science, taken a step further than what we've got today. We're talking real honest-to-goodness science here, things such as genetic engineering or nanotechnology. Those are the realities which make up Michael Crichton's writing, and why, though they are found in the "fiction" section of Books-A-Million, are in all actually firmly science fiction. Frankly, I think it's that lack of space ships that keeps him out of the geek sector of the store.

Additionally, this is not a review about the science and content of this book. This is a review of it, and how well it works, as a piece of fiction. I'm not going to be discussing the science, global warming, or climatic climate change here. If that's what you're after, sorry that you got dragged here via Google for that. Hope you stay and finish the review anyhow though.

Anyways on with the review, as noted, State of Fear was written by Michael Crichton and as a hard cover clocks in at an impressive 567 pages, and that's before the author's notes, the two appendices and the bibliography (which brings the total page count to 603). And yes, this is a fictional novel with appendices and a bibliography—didn't you read the paragraph above this one? He's dealing with real science here. So, what do the marketers have to say about this book? Well, here's the blurb:

In Paris, a physicist dies after performing a laboratory experiment for a beautiful visitor.

In the jungles of Malaysia, a mysterious buyer purchases deadly cavitation technology, built to his specification.

In Vancouver, a small research submarine is leased for use in the waters off New Guinea.

And in Tokyo, an intelligence agent tries to understand what it all means.

Thus begins Michael Crichton's exciting and provocative techno-thriller State of Fear. Only Crichton's unique ability to blend scientific fact with pulse pounding fiction could bring such disparate elements to a heart-stopping conclusion.

This is Crichton's most wide-ranging thriller. State of Fear takes the reader from the glaciers of Iceland to the volcanoes of Antarctica, from the Arizona desert to the deadly jungles of the Solomon Islands, from the streets of Paris to the beaches of Los Angeles. The novel races forward on a roller-coaster thrill ride, all the while keeping the brain in high gear. Gripping and thought-provoking, State of Fear is Michael Crichton at his very best.

Well, after reading the 400 words which made up the blurb for Dragon's Fire, this was quite a welcome respite. Though at the same time, I had to wonder if whoever was writing this blurb wasn't just reaching for something, anything, to say about the book. Additionally, after reading this novel, I'm not certain that I would call it his "very best." I'm 100% certain that it wouldn't convince me to buy this book, as the only reason I read it is because I'm in North Carolina on vacation, without dedicated Internet, and I've already read all my books, and this happened to be in the rental.

As for the plot, this is a classic thriller, where the main POV character is kept in the dark about things, which of course means that the reader is left struggling to understand. The events that are occurring here are merely showcases for the science which he wishes to highlight though. It's the science, and Crichton's expectations on where that science is going, which are the real stars of the show.

But, readers can't relate to science, unless you happen to be my older brother who has a doctorate in physics, but he's just odd. So, this story, like all good stories, has characters. The main character is one Peter Evans, a lawyer for a rich philanthropist, who just happens to also be working for an organization called NERF. Truth be told, I can't remember what that acronym stands for anymore, and can't quite seem to bring myself to hunt for it. Needless to say, it's an environmental organization. Besides Evans we have George Morton, the rich philanthropist, Sarah his personal assistant, Jon Kenner the intelligence agent described in the blurb, plus his side kick, and then the head of NERF, Nicholas Drake (the de facto antagonist for the novel, or at least as close as it comes to one). And then there were the secondary and tertiary characters. This is a somewhat large cast, and a few times, I found myself wishing for a Dramatis Personae that I could look through to remind myself who certain characters were.

Unfortunately, beyond a simple listing of who the characters are, there's not a whole lot to say about them. There's no great massive change to the characters, they don't undergo some startling transformation or even a less than startling one. As I said earlier, the science is the star of this show, and it shows.

Despite being labeled a 'thriller' huge portions of the text is taken up with expositionary dialog detailing the current knowledge and state of the global warming phenomenon and the climate of fear associated with it that is fostered by the political and media complexes here in the West.

Complete with data charts and footnotes.

And how I wished that was actually a joke.

Frankly, it dragged the book down, and there actually came a point when the author realized this, and took the expositionary text out of dialog, and presented it in paragraph form for the reader.

It almost felt like being in school again. And I discovered that I still disliked paleontology, geology and environmental science.

The settings were varied, and wide ranging. Look in the blurb, it lists every one. Well, they also visited San Francisco and the Redwood forests, the former to further the plot, the latter as a vehicle for more of that expositionary text.

And if you've not caught on now, expositionary text is not good. In fact it is very, very bad. It's the author of a novel, telling the reader something. I don't want to be told something. If I did, I'd be reading a textbook or a Journal.

Other important information about the setting is that it was set in 2004, which explains why all the graph data stops at the year 2000 or so.

Ultimately, I was less than thrilled about this novel. It read like a science journal which someone had dressed up with an action-adventure plot in order to get people to read it. Then there's the fact that the main character is a lawyer, who is running around the globe doing these insane, James Bond style missions. Now, I know I'm big on the Hero's Journey and all, but this setup really pushed my ability to suspend disbelief.

So, we have a weak plot, weak characters, and way too many pages of expositionary text. As I write this, I'm left struggling to think up something good about this novel, and the only thing I can think of is the content that it is trying to get out to the masses-mainly that we still don't know enough about the Earth and its climate.

And while, it is not a mind-numbing experience, it is definitely, not that good of a novel, regardless of what someone thinks of the science behind it.

In the end, I have to give State of Fear a 0.4 out of 4.

1 comment:

James Aach said...

See what you think of this one, which has been compared favorably with Mr. C:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin