Worlds & Time

Thursday, July 06, 2006

State of Fear

I just finished reading State of Fear by Michael Crichton, who is one of my favorite authors.

It was a horrible read.

I disagree vehemently with his position and agree with his conclusion, but let me first disagree with his writing. The characters were one dimensional. Except for the protagonist, no characters' expectations were challenged. The good guys were right about everything, from global warming to cannibalism, and the bad guys were mass murderers with no real understanding of their own motivation. The plot, from Prius chases to Ferrari crashes, was so transparent that I was constantly searching for a deeper meaning that simply wasn't there.

The good/bad duality isn't between liberals and conservatives, although at a first glance it looks that way. They main characters are lawyers and scholars, and even a few scientists thrown into the mix, arguing amongst themselves. The problem is that even while he says "We don't really know whats going on," Crichton is promoting a one sided agenda.

The book is referenced. I doubt that you'll see many fiction books where two characters sitting on a plane talking about cannibalism requires footnotes, but here you will. Of course, this being Michael Crichton, the character whom the footnotes don't support is eaten. For the moment, Ill pretend that the character isn't Martin Sheen and state my main complaint with the references

Only one side is allowed to present them. The irony of the last bullet point in the authors statement ("Everyone has an agenda. Except me.") would be slightly less sad if it wasn't such a blatant lie. After the eugenics and the Lamarckian genetics comparisons, there really isn't hope for a calm and civilized discussion about the topic of global warming, and the characters in the book certainly don't attempt to have one.

MIT professor John Kenner, who forms the main focus for the debate against global warming in the book, is quite fond of using citations. Consistently the characters that he speaks to dismiss the citations as bogus and fall into denial. But the character never faces anyone that can offer him any rebuttal, scientist or not. Kenner is the Jesus Christ of the story, perfect and untouched by the events of the story, walking across the water of Crichton's fiction. Perhaps I would have been a little more impressed if the characters that Kenner was debating in the book had been more than a lawyer and an actor, if someone had cited a study and disagreed rationally just once.

For me, reading this, the worst thing was that I agreed with Crichton's conclusion, given in the end by Crichton's Mary Sue. There really are compelling reasons to restructure the way that grants are issued and funded to make them double blind, to make these organizations more focused on research than administration (and in Crichton's world, terrorism). Those are noble goals.

But in the real world, I dont hold out much hope. Where Crichton's eco-terrorist group ELF uses rocket launchers and earthquake machines, the real ELF uses paint and matches. Where scientists talk only to lawyers, in the real world scientists occasionally talk to other scientists. Where the masses live in ignorance in Crichton's world, in the real world even the scientists are sometimes wrong. Thats why this is reality and Crichton writes fiction.

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