State of Fear: Part I

I’ve finished the first 100 or so pages of Michael Crichton’s new book, State of Fear. Since I’ve been blogging about the book for a week, I owe some thoughts.

First, the story has grabbed me. The action begins quickly. While some reviewers have crticized the number of characters and the variety of venues, I find the pace excellent.

Second, if you’re looking for massive debunking of wacko global warming theories, the book will start slowly. That’s a good thing. So far, I don’t find it preaching, though the main character, a young lawyer at a firm that specializes in earth-friendly clients with deep pockets, is a bit too cookie-cutter of a limousine liberal.

Third, this represents my first Crichton book, so I must address his skill in the craft. As a writer, Michael Crichton makes a good scientist and doctor. While his story, so far, engages me, his mastery of the language wants something. I surmise that State of Fear raced through the editorial process at Harper-Collins without much editorial scrutiny. Crichton’s credentials for commercially lucrative books precedes him, even if human dialogue does not.

True, my criticism covers only the first one hundred, fifteen pages. Were this a first novel, I would hold my tongue until the end–or until a second or third work. But Crichton’s credits include thirteen fiction and four nonfiction works. You don’t learn dialogue on book fifteen.

While on the negatives, I might as well mention that I like word pictures. I want to see, hear, smell, and feel the characters' worlds. Crichton doesn’t do that. I have no idea what Peter Evans’s apartment looks like, even though Crichton tried to tell me:

Peter Evans lived in one of the older apartment buildings on Roxbury Drive in the flats of Beverly Hills. There were four units in his building, across the street from Roxbury Park. It was a nice park, a big green expanse, always busy.

Could a police artist create a useful sketch from that description? Hardly.

Crichton’s description of beautiful women ends with the word beautiful and a scant note of complexion, hair color, and eyes. Oh, and “white teeth.” On the other hand, he took the time to describe one woman’s hands: “She had beautiful fingers.” Does that really tell me anything about her fingers?

Why not, “Marshall could not watch the choreographed moves of her fingers without wanting them on him. Silently, he begged for her touch.”

But Crichton’s lack of details serves one purpose well: it leaves interpretation open for Hollywood directors. In his interview with ABC’s 20/20 on Friday, and already twice in the first hundred pages, Crichton advises us to follow the money when sizing up environmental causes. I suspect we can follow much of Crichton’s visually sparse writing to a movie studio.

Do not let my literary snobbishness stop you from reading State of Fear. As I said, the story moves with engrossing pace, even if the writing and characters seem thin. I still recommend the book.