Thursday, February 23, 2006

Book Review: State of Fear

(Note to regular readers of this blog: I've already done a blase review of SOF. Since I have to pull up my socks when submitting to paying customers, who gets to benefit, why you, my adoring public. So here's the shinier version, with all the 'i's dotted and the 't's back to front. Please place comments below if you find a post interesting - or not)

I’ve always liked Michael Crichton. From Jurassic Park to Prey, he’s always infused a creative intelligence to the bestseller list.
Like John Grisham, he’s also easy to read. But I wonder if they’re starting to lose their touch. Michael Crichton’s State of Fear isn’t as fresh or dynamic as Prey , and Prey was written with a blunter pencil than the one used in Jurassic Park. What’s happening?

State of Fear is about global warming. I think. It may be more accurate to say that the characters argue themselves to death, or at least out of breath. Some of it works, but some of it doesn’t. Perhaps Crichton ought to start writing non fiction, because he’s becoming a crusader. It’s not a criticism; I believe he’s onto some important points. Of the 670 page paperback, the last 40 are devoted to fact filled appendices and an extensive bibliography.

I’m the last one to complain when important subjects like Global Warming are threaded into popular media. I just worry that, mixed as it is here with crashing red Ferrari’s, cannibals and War of the Worlds lightning bolts, it will become entertainment, and seen as just another passing thing. The recent carnage in the Gulf of Mexico, shows that the weather is a serious business that effects us all.

Crichton, to his credit, does a great deal to demystify the science of it. I often found myself reaching for a pen or pencil to underline a fact that would have a cocktail party begging at my feet for more succulent scraps. The way he demonstrates how data can be massaged, and graphs with almost identical stata can be shown to show an uphill line (warming), or downhill (cooling)or even a flat line (no change). This demonstration alone makes the book quite a useful device for any wannabe politician, lawyer, economist or defender of the faith who might need a way to have information serve their purposes. And the book forces the reader to wake up out of a kind’ve popular mysticism, by rendering conventional wisdom as conventional delusion and ultimately flawed.

Incidentally, this might be something the author intended. He makes some startling, and riveting statements, many of which make a lot of sense.
But must we have our attention diverted by car chases, bitchiness and murderous Australian octopi?
You know, it’s a difficult answer. Chances are neither you nor I would touch a book labeled: Global Warming: Now You Know. This way, the Crichton way, we get a bit of an education while we’re enjoying ourselves.

One of the points Crichton makes in his books, is that whoever pays for the scientific study of something, tends to have an influence on the data coming out in a way that makes the patron look good. There’s a built in bias, whether the patron is the government or Greenpeace.
It’s an important message in these bewildering times, but to be honest, I often didn’t know what to believe, or what the author’s position was on Global Warming. This is the best and worst device in the book. You find out you have no idea what’s going on, and then realize, this is the perfect place to start. (Crichton does finally state his view in an appendaged Author’s Message.

Bottom line: It’s an above average book, but it’s not his best. It might be his worst. It’s intelligent but it doesn’t fit together very well. It’s perfect for very long airplane flights where all your fellow passengers speak a different language. Then again, it is about a State of Fear, and the weather (possibly) going mad. Try this: stay home on a perfectly beautiful afternoon and, with the book within crawling distance, decide for yourself whether to be afraid (and reading) or swimming in the pool. I think the book recommends both.

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