I've been catching up on some books I've been meaning to get around to reading. That includes books by authors who have written books that have had a great influence on me. This past week I cranked through Michael Crichton's State of Fear. There are some spoilers ahead, but the book has been out a long time. Also, as the title of this post might suggest, I might just save you some time if you chose to read this post and not the book.
I posted the following on GoodReads.com. As a long-time fan of Crichton, it’s pretty remarkable that I’m giving this book one star. Let me state immediately that I’m not giving this book such a low rating because of its view on climate change. While there are many good resources out there discussing areas that Crichton may have overlooked and left out in his treatment of the topic in the book and while I think the author’s note and appendix at the end of the book raise legitimate concerns worth pursuing, my reason for giving his book such a low rating is simple: the story sucked!
The characters were in fact caricatures of ideologies, and thus stiff and in uninteresting. The main character is the least stiff and most fleshed out. But the plot that involves a lawyer getting ripped in to adventures to thwart eco terrorists just doesn’t make sense. Why would he get drug along? Why would a Hollywood movie/TV star get drug along? It was just a remarkably unbelievable plot where things seem to happen because they serve to push forward the author’s agenda. That brings me to my next issue. Much of the book is purely didactic conventions between characters where the know-it-all scientists sets everyone straight. Basically, think Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, but with even less nuance and subtlety (and a sort of terrorist cop undercover—geez, Crichton). No one in the book seems up to the task of properly debating this character and in the end everything about the plot perfectly proves all his points. Crichton should have just written non-fiction book. This didactic storytelling became so tedious that even if I found myself thinking that good points were raised, the plot always came to screeching halt for these long arguments and the fact that the know-it-all scientists never seemed remotely challenged felt all too convenient, like Crichton cherry picked topics to have characters argue over for which he felt confident in addressing with counter arguments while conveniently no one brings up anything that causes our super scientist to admit, “that is a good point and I think we need to study that more to gain a better perspective.” No, he’s always ready with a sure answer and citation. Nothing seems to rattle him. He’s basically a robot. Finally, there is virtually no character arc for anyone. This ultimately shows Crichton’s hand that this book was not about storytelling and connecting with characters who undergo real change but rather is about pushing an agenda. Again, even if I agreed with his agenda, this is still such bad storytelling that it deserves a one star review. The book ends leaving many strings loose and focusing instead on proposed solutions that actually sound like great ideas worth consideration, but this “ending” does little make a satisfying conclusion to a story about... you know... characters. Crichton really should have written a non-fiction book on this. It would have been worth a read. State of Fear, however, goes down as the worst of his books I’ve read.