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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Once Again, I Just Don't Get the Hype ...

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

So, I've come to a startling realization: I've never read a Michael Crichton book. Not one that he completed before his death in November of 2008, anyway (I watched every episode of ER, though. Does that count?) Mostly, I've discovered, I'm familiar with his novels because of the movies that were created from them—Sphere, Jurassic Park, The Lost World, etc. But the actual books? Nope. The only two I've read—Pirate Latitudes and now MICRO—were either unfinished (the former) or completed by someone else (the latter). Does this make a difference? I believe so, because otherwise, I just can't understand people's enthusiasm for Michael Crichton. Blasphemy, I know.

For those of you who are, maybe you'll enjoy his newest, MICRO. The book, completed by thriller writer Richard Preston (click here to read an NPR interview about how the novel was created), concerns a group of interns lost in a deadly microscopic world overseen by a psychotic scientist. It's kind of hard to explain, so let me use the jacket flap copy, which does so quite nicely:

In a locked Honolulu office building, three men are found dead with no sign of struggle except for the ultrafine, razor-sharp cuts covering their bodies. the only clue left behind is a tiny bladed robot, nearly invisible to the human eye.

In the lush forests of Oahu, groundbreaking technology has ushered in a revolutionary era of biological prospecting. Trillions of microorganisms, tens of thousands of bacteria species, are being discovered; they are feeding a search for priceless drugs and applications on a scale beyond anything previously imagined.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, seven graduate students at the forefront of their fields are recruited by a pioneering microbiology start-up. Nanigen MicroTechnologies dispatches the group to a mysterious lab in Hawaii, where they are promised access to tools that will open a whole new scientific frontier.

But once in the Oahu rain forest, the scientists are thrust into a hostile wilderness that reveals profound and surprising dangers at every turn. Armed only with their knowledge of the natural world, they find themselves prety to a technology of radical and unbridles poower. To survive, they must harness the inherent forces of nature itself.

An instant classic, MICRO pits nature against technology in vintage Crichton fashion. Completed by visionary science writer Richard Preston, this boundary-pushing thriller melds scientific fact with pulse-pounding fiction to create yet another masterpiece of sophisticated, cutting-edge entertainment.

Sounds intriguing, no? I thought so, too. The problem, once again, is not in the novel's premise, but in its execution. Now, my husband (who has fond memories of reading Jurassic Park to his youngest brother as a bedtime story) insists that the beauty of a Crichton novel lies in the science. I happen to believe that science is all well and good, but that if you're trying to create exciting fiction then you're going to need a little more than just cold, hard facts and concepts. For instance, you should have some colorful characters, people who speak and act in interesting ways. You don't want cliches or stereotypes, and you certainly don't want emotionless paper dolls. Once you've created some lively folks, you should let them engage in informative, but entertaining conversations. Some kind of action is required in a story, of course, and yet, you cannot make it the only thing. There has to be some human emotion (not melodrama) involved so that readers feel connected to the story and its cast. Most importantly of all, though, is dynamic storytelling. Settings, characters, and plot events need to be described in a way that makes them live and breathe in the reader's imagination. Without all this, you just have science and, I don't know about you, but I don't think that makes for much of a story. A documentary, okay, but not a fictionalized thriller.

In case you can't tell, MICRO just didn't do it for me at all. Even though (as you can probably tell) science isn't really my thing, I think I could have enjoyed this book if it had had all the things I mentioned above. It didn't. For me, then, it became dull. I felt so little connection to the characters that I really didn't care whether they lived or died. Well, I guess I cared enough to finish the book, but that's it. Like Pirate Latitudes, it left me thinking, "What's all the hype about here? I just don't get it." Maybe this is just a classic case of "different strokes for different folks," but I really do believe that I can enjoy a novel on any subject under the sun—provided the story is told well. For me, MICRO didn't fit that bill at all.

My task now, I think, is to go back and read a real Crichton book. I think I'll start with Sphere, since that's the movie I like best. Unless, of course, there's a written version of ER ...

(Readalikes: Reminds me a little of Jurassic Park—the movie version, since I haven't actually read the book)

Grade: C-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for language, violence/gore, and sexual innuendo

To the FTC, with love: I received a finished copy of MICRO from the generous folks at Harper Collins. Thank you!


  1. I read Jurassic Park in 8th grade and really loved it... but I was in 8th grade, so I'm not sure how it would hold up today.

  2. I completely agree with you. I've read several of his books and have been disappointed by the poor writing in every single one of them. I found myself rushing through them just to get them finished (I think the hype kept me thinking it was ME for a long time, and I kept coming back to the newest of I know better. He REALLY is a below average writer - just another bestseller list bunch of hype.)

  3. I really enjoyed Jurassic Park and Timeline. A couple others I thought were OK, a couple others I didn't like at all. He's not "literature", that's for sure, but some of his stuff is good entertainment. I haven't bothered with any of the post-mortem releases.


  4. I haven't read a book by him either, but my husband loves them. He is particularly fond of Jurassic Park! The movie and the book, naturally.

    Nice thoughts on this though!

  5. I didn't bother finishing Pirate Latitudes. And honestly I'd suggest skipping Sphere, too. Just go right to Jurassic Park - it's probably the best. Prey was good, too but really bad language as I recall.


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