There was a time when everything that Michael Crichton touched seemed to turn to gold. The streak really started with Jurassic Park, continued with ER and then we got Disclosure. But over the past couple of years, the Crichton name, while still popular has lost some of its luster. Honestly, I think this is because his last few books have felt like they’re just script treatments begging to be turned into blockbuster movies—just look at Prey, Timeline and the biggest culprit—Jurassic Park: The Lost World.
Indeed, Crichton’s last two books, Prey and Timeline, have been pretty lackluster at best. Gone are the days when Jurassic Park or Sphere had you turning the pages well into the wee hours of the morning being both educated by the Crichton’s science and entertained by the sheer driving force of the narrative.
It’s also hard to remember that as successful as Crichton has been, that he can also be a bit controversial. His willingness to tackle the issue of sexual harassment defined Disclosure and warned a new generation of men about the dangers present to them in the modern workplace. Now almost ten years after Disclosure, Crichton turns his attention to another controversial topic—the issue of global warming—in his new novel, State of Fear.
This book is liable to really annoy a lot of the environmental community because Crichton asserts that not only is global warming not really the huge threat it’s been portrayed to be, there is pretty much no evidence that global warming is occurring at all. Instead, what we, the general public, are being fed is a series of terrifying statistics and reports to keep us in a “state of fear.” Crichton’s assertion is that after the Cold War, there were no more enemies to fight to keep the United States populace in a state of fear, fighting a common enemy—hence the sudden emphasis on environmentalism in our news and reports.
Crichton backs up all this up with a wealth of documentation and evidence throughout the book. Only in a Michael Crichton novel will you have footnotes.
Indeed, reading State of Fear, I was reminded a lot of Disclosure—Crichton’s early 90’s warning about sexual harassment. The novel barrels along at breakneck pace, slowly setting up the premise that global warming isn’t happening and that we understand very little about the environment many of us are so sworn to protect. In fact, for the first half of the novel, one would assume Crichton is writing a novel in far of environmental controls.
It’s only in the second half that the real agenda comes out. Do we really know how the environment works? Is there really such a thing as leaving nature alone and keeping a place in its natural state? What is the natural state? Crichton gives us his opinion on them throughout the course of the story.
His final conclusion—the fight to preserve the Earth and its resources should be an on-going, ever changing battle. It should change with each generation because each generation will face its own crisis. There is no global right or wrong answer that will work in every situation.
But all of this would just be a scientific paper if it were not for the page turning thrills that we’ve come to associate with Michael Crichton. I’m happy to report that after his last two lackluster books, this one is a breath of fresh air. I almost feel as if Crichton believes so strongly in his argument that he doesn’t care if the story gets optioned for a movie and he returns to his old form—page turning suspense and intriguing situations. Yes, some of the character are a bit two dimensional, but overall the story is intriguing one that will keep you turning the pages.
But how you receive the overall message may depend on how you feel about the environmental movement. If you approach State of Fear with an open mind, you just might learn a few things. I have a feeling in a few years many of us will look back at State of Fear as a warning of things to come much as we look back now at Disclosure.
posted by Michael Hickerson at 12/27/2004 09:18:00 PM