Friday, January 30, 2015

Cephalopod Coffeehouse January 2015

For this month's Cephalopod Coffeehouse (hosted by Armchair Squid), I ended up reading an author I'd forgotten was a favorite of mine: Michael Crichton.

I tend to read differently than I did in the '90s, when I was a teenager.  In fact, that whole formative library was dismantled years ago and has since been replaced with authors I discovered and grew to cherish far more than anyone I read in adolescence, which would have been unthinkable for the young Tony Laplume.  (But, the young me read a lot of Star Trek books, and it wasn't a much older one who finally discovered...a lot of those really aren't very good.)

But I read a string of Crichton in those days, including the requisite Jurassic Park and The Lost World, as well as Congo and Sphere.  My father, when he caught me reading Crichton, told me how he'd read The Andromeda Strain when he was younger.  Michael Crichton remains the only independently mutual discovery we have, so there's a certain amount of worth right there.

State of Fear was originally published in 2004, and it was one of those things I knew was of immediate interest, but for one reason or another never got around to reading.  Finding it in a used book sale years later brought it back to my attention (actually, I'm not a hundred percent sure that's how I ended up with a copy, because even at that point it still waited a long time to be read).  Rediscovering Crichton's relevance at a later point in my reading life was one thing, but actually reading him again turned out to be another thing.

First of all, after the dalliances of my youth, I have tended to veer away from popular fiction, except with authors like Rowling and King.  I don't read a lot of thrillers, either, because compulsive reading is usually equally lazy writing.  These books tend to delve deeply into a subject but steer clear of exploring any other facet of storytelling.  I stuck a toe into these dangerous waters with Brad Meltzer a few years back, and was satisfied with the results.  So I had to at least suspect Crichton couldn't entirely disappoint the older me.

The main reason for my interest in State of Fear, however, wasn't Crichton at all, but his subject matter.  Hey, so you've heard of climate change, right?  Except, and I fully support environmental responsibility, but I've been wondering how much of what a lot of people have been fixated on for the past few decades has been a little less than completely legitimate.  Crichton famously filled his book with actual reference material, one of the very rare public dissents with a topic most people might have thought was legitimized once and for all by Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth only a few years later as incontrovertible.  Anyone who doesn't agree must be either wildly naive or swayed by moneyed interests, right?

Except step by methodical step, Crichton outlines a completely different case, all the while throwing a set of characters into familiar turmoil.  It's quite fascinating.  I wondered if he could truly pull it off, and after finally reading it, I think he did.

I'm not trying to open up a debate.  Like Crichton, I think there needs to be a lot more rationality and far less sensationalism in such a discussion, but that is rarely if ever the case.  And the Internet especially is no place for nuance.  But State of Fear reminded me that Crichton was a rare instance of the younger me getting it right.  This was a writer worth reading.  And I think he'll endure.


  1. An Amazon reviewer said, "Crichton used the bully pulpit given to him by adoring fans, and his reputation for imaginative use of real science, to make the case that radical environmentalists were fear-mongering (creating an artificial 'State of Fear'). But in the process, he has engendered disrespect for science and the scientific process that, had he lived long enough and grown wise enough, I'm sure he would have come to regret." It is unfortunate Crichton chose to use his influence in this way.

    1. Except the counterargument is that Crichton was not disseminating false information at all, but rather providing some contextual perspective that is often overlooked in the climate change discussion, which is hugely valuable. Does anyone really want to believe that the only thing we can do about any of this is continually harass everyone into feeling guilty? It's ridiculous. I mean, we have science and social progress for a reason. If humans can't adapt to a changing world, there's a much bigger problem than we've managed to acknowledge. It's about time, regardless of what you believe, that we start to change the conversation.

  2. The only work by Crichton that I've read is Pirate Latitudes which did get a range of reviews. I remember liking the book a great deal as I read it, but as with most books I now can't tell you much about what it was about. He's a fine writer in the popular style and I'd definitely read other books by him

    Fortunately I found Pirate Latitudes in a hardback edition for a dollar at the dollar tree store. Great bargain!

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out


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