Michael Crichton is the master of the science thriller. The Andromeda Strain
remains my favorite science thriller, and Jurassic Park
is not far behind. State of Fear
continues Crichton's strong tradition of packing lots of science into a breathtaking narrative. Learning science this way is fun! The only flaw that keeps me from giving this novel 5 stars is the typically weak characterization that includes a half-hearted nod to Hollywood romance by throwing in a weak triangle late in the game. Other than that, if you're interested in the environment, environmental groups, and global warming, you'll want to add this fascinating account to your summer reading list.
Crichton covers the environmental movement first in a fast-paced, globe-trotting 567-page fictional account, complete with footnotes. He then gives the subject matter a 35-page nonfiction treatment through an "Author's Message," two appendices, and an extensive annotated bibliography. The premise of the novel is a real event: The proposed lawsuit brought by environmentalists on behalf of the people of the South Pacific Island of Tuvalu (Crichton calls it Vanutu), who claim their island is sinking because of rising seas caused by melting icebergs and global warming.
I was immediately intrigued because I remember reading the Smithsonian cover story Ground Zero for Global Warming: Tuvalu, That Sinking Feeling
from August 2004. I hadn't heard anything else about the story until I picked up Crichton's novel. It seems the suit was dropped because global warming cannot be proved sufficiently to stand up in a court of law.
In his usual thorough way, Crichton brings out the scientific figures, graphs, and numbers and lets them speak for themselves. He does not argue that humans are not having an effect on the environment. I took his argument to be "Test everything you hear. Look at the numbers yourselves. Don't believe everything you read. Don't trust media reports blindly." Even if you aren't interested in the numbers or the arguments one way or the other, you'll enjoy the adventure and intrigue of the fictional narrative. Our heroes fall into an ice crevasse in Antarctica, get struck by lightning--repeatedly--both in a lab and in the field, get poisoned by a blue octopus, are swept away in a flash flood, and narrowly escape a tsunami. Whew!
Indeed, the descriptions of the tsunami and how to set one off are downright eerie after the December 26, 2004 event in the Far East. Crichton can't have known that was going to happen when he set up his fictional tsunami north of the Solomon Islands.
I highly recommend Michael Crichton's State of Fear.
Put it at the top of your beach reading list--you'll have a grand adventure and some food for thought.