State of Fear

[Amazon Link]

This is the first Michael Crichton book I've read since The Andromeda Strain and The Terminal Man back in, well, a long time ago.

The thesis is, roughly speaking, that environmentalists are a bunch of earnest dupes, led by a small group of cynical, greedy, power-hungry activists. OK, so that's probably not too far off from the truth. The (hopefully) fictional part is that the activists are extremely ruthless, willing to sacrifice the lives of many to their higher good, and have also learned how to stage a variety of environmental catastrophes in their spare time, and plan to do so in order to scare the rest of the world into Doing Something Now, for example ratifying the Kyoto Treaty. Our heroes, woefully outnumbered, aim to discover the triggering points for these disasters and thwart them.

You might expect a right-wing laissez-faire troglodyte like me to like this book a lot better. But the characters are (approximately) 2.1-dimensional, spouting predictable, flat dialogue. (One buffoonish character is a thinly-disguised Martin Sheen. I guarantee Martin Sheen won't be playing this role in the movie, but he'd be good.) A lot of didactic passages remind me of good old Ayn Rand. This may be the only novel you ever read with this many footnotes and graphs. The characters careen from one peril to the next: Antarctic crevasses, flash floods in Arizona, targeted lightning bolts, tiny deadly octopi, and South Pacific cannibals. And more. That kind of stuff works better in movies.

But darn it, it is a major page-turner. Crichton knows how to make you want to see what happens next, despite all the groaning you might have to do on the way. The flaws, such as they are, are thouroughly professional flaws; you'll see 'em in just about any mass-marketed prefab best-seller. And when our characters visit Antarctica, you can believe that Crichton's been there, and looked down the crevasses himself.

Crichton's appendix "Why Politicized Science is Dangerous" is very much worth reading. You can (however) read it here. I've previously raved about his talk, "Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century." You can find that, and others, here.

Last Modified 2012-10-25 2:59 PM EST