Book: State of Fear by Michael Crichton

Unhappy combination of thriller and polemic

Michael Crichton
State of Fear
HarperCollins, 2004
ISBN-13: 978-0-06-101573-1
ISBN-10: 0-06-101573-3
623 pages (main text)

Michael Crichton has a well-deserved reputation for writing page-turner-style thrillers. They're not art, but if you're in the mood for one, they're generally great fun. He also has a reputation for arguing cogently for being skeptical of the claims of some environmentalists.

State of Fear is an unhappy combination those two things. The bad guys in the novel are environmentalists who are not above manufacturing disasters in order to get the P.R. they want for their cause. There's nothing wrong with that as a premise for a thriller. The problem with the book is in how the story is told. Characters stop to deliver lectures. Which Mr Crichton often provides footnotes for. Footnotes tend to make a page-turner rather less page-turney.

I can sympathize with Mr Crichton's situation to some small degree. People tend to give environmentalists the benefit of the doubt and environmentalists don't always deserve it. If he wants to have environmentalist bad guys and wants to have other characters argue against the views they have that are misguided, his readers might not take the counter-arguments seriously unless they're told that they should. Still, a didactic thriller isn't going to work.

In the back of the book, in an "Author's Message" and in the first appendix, Mr Crichton explains his views on environmentalism without recourse to fiction. Those sections are both quite good and I'd recommend them if they were available separately. As it is, rather than reading State of Fear, a reader would be better off reading a thriller without lectures and then reading Bjørn Lomborg's fine book The Skeptical Environmentalist.

There are a couple of minor errors in the book. There's "silicon" where "silicone" is wanted on page 267 and again on page 502. And an overloaded helicopter would perform a running takeoff , not a hover takeoff (p. 561).

Posted: Thu - July 6, 2006 at 05:15 PM   Main   Category: