State of Fear
Michael Crichton. HarperCollins, $27.95 (624pp) ISBN 978-0-06-621413-9
If Crichton is right-if the scientific evidence for global warming is thin; if the environmental movement, ignoring science, has gone off track; if we live in what he in his Author's Message calls a ""State of Fear,"" a ""near-hysterical preoccupation with safety that's at best a waste of resources and a crimp on the human spirit, and at worst an invitation to totalitarianism""-then his extraordinary new thriller may in time be viewed as a landmark publication, both cautionary and prophetic. If he is wrong, then the novel will be remembered simply as another smart and robust, albeit preachy, addition to an astonishing writing career that has produced, among other works, Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, Disclosure and The Andromeda Strain. Crichton dramatizes his message by way of a frantic chase to prevent environmental terrorists from wreaking widespread destruction aimed at galvanizing the world against global warming. A team lead by MIT scientist/federal agent John Kenner crosses the globe to prevent the terrorists from calving a giant Antarctic iceberg; inducing terrible storms and flash floods in the US; and, using giant cavitators, causing a Pacific tidal wave. Behind the terrorists lurks the fantatical, fund-seeking chief of a mainstream environmental group; on Kenner's team, most notably, is young attorney Peter Evans, aka everyman, whose typically liberal views on global warming chill as Kenner instructs him in the truth about the so-called crisis. The novel is dense with cliffhangers and chases and derring-do, while stuffed between these, mostly via Kenner's dialogue, is a talky yet highly provocative survey of how Crichton thinks environmentalism has derailed. There are plenty of ready-to-film minor characters as well, from a karate-kicking beauty to a dimwitted, pro-environmentalist TV star who meets one of the nastiest fates in recent fiction. There's a lot of message here, but fortunately Crichton knows how to write a thriller of cyclonic speed and intensity. Certainly one of the more unusual novels of the year for its high-level mix of education and entertainment, with a decidedly daring contrarian take, this take-no-prisoners consideration of environmentalism wrapped in extravagantly enjoyable pages is one of the most memorable novels of the year and is bound to be a #1 bestseller.
Reviewed on: 12/01/2004