Review of State of Fear, by Michael Crichton


I've been reading Michael Crichton for a long time. He's easily my favorite author. Like most teenagers, Jurassic Park blew my mind and had me reenacting scenes with my GI-Joes in my bedroom. After that I absorbed everything he'd written: early work like Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man, then his middle-career work Congo and Sphere, and the later books like Timeline, Congo, and Next. I loved it all. Crichton could do no wrong in my eyes, and he never  disappointed.

Well, unfortunately that ended with State of Fear.

State of Fear tells the story of eco-terrorists attempting to make climate change appear worse than it actually is in a variety of staged catastrophes (flash floods, antarctic shelf collapses, and tsunamis). An unsuspecting lawyer from California is swept up in the attempt to stop them.

The book falls short in numerous ways. First, the characters are extremely flat. Peter Evans--from whose point of view the majority of the book is told--is boring and unmotivated. He has no clear goals or ambitions, and is simply swept along in the events. The two mysterious characters who suddenly appear to try and stop the terrorists also have no backstory or motivations, beyond a vague "We have to stop them" attitude. The entire thing is weak. It's a thriller, so less backstory is expected, but when the characters have no reasons for their motivations it becomes dull.

Secondly, the book's pacing/plotting is formulaic and boring. They're in Pasadena trying to stop lawyers. Now they're in Antarctica for [insert vague reason here] and oh, they stumble upon a terrorist plot there. Now they're in Arizona trying to halt a flash flood. Then they're fighting the terrorists on a tropical Pacific Island. It's a collection of individual scenes strung together in a patchwork plot that feels disjointed. Crichton's writing is fine, but the story itself is sub-par. 

But the largest reason I didn't enjoy the book is because the entire thing was written as a strawman attack against cllimate change. Crichton paints all environmentalists as psychotic and extreme, rabidly insisting global warming is real and going to whatever means necessary. You know how, when you're explaining an argument and you want the other side to look dumb, you puff out your cheeks and make their exaggerated voice really deep and slow-sounding? This entire book feels like Crichton doing that. "Hurr durr, the environment!" 

Not only is the book itself written to paint environmentalists thusly, but Crichton goes so far as to attach an entire 20 page thesis at the end of the book, where he lambastes modern scientists as 100% corrupt and equates Climate Change Theory with the Theory of Eugenics. "Eugenics was widely accepted in the 1930s," he goes on to explain, "and we look back on it as ridiculous. The Theory of Climate Change will look the same in another century."

It's fine to have an opinion on an issue, even if others disagree. Discussion and discourse are important. But State of Fear is an elaborate attempt to paint the other side as extreme, when it's simply not the case. That would be more excusable if the book were entertaining, but this work of fiction fails in that regard as well.