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State of Fear Hardcover – Deckle Edge, December 7, 2004
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Amazon.com Exclusive Content
A Michael Crichton Timeline
Amazon.com reveals a few facts about the "father of the techno-thriller."
1942: John Michael Crichton is born in Chicago, Illinois on Oct. 23.
1960: Crichton graduates from Roslyn High School on Long Island, New York, with high marks and a reputation as a star basketball player. He decides to attend Harvard University to study English. During his studies, he rankles under his writing professors' criticism. As an act of rebellion, Crichton submits an essay by George Orwell as his own. The professor doesnt catch the plagiarism and gives Orwell a B-. This experience convinces Crichton to change his field of study to anthropology.
1964: Crichton graduates summa cum laude from Harvard University in anthropology. After studying further as a visiting lecturer at Cambridge University and receiving the Henry Russell Shaw Travelling Fellowship, which allowed him to travel in Europe and North Africa, Crichton begins coursework at the Harvard School of Medicine. To help fund his medical endeavors, he writes spy thrillers under several pen names. One of these works, A Case of Need, wins the 1968 Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Award.
1969: Crichton graduates from Harvard Medical school and is accepted as a post-doctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Science in La Jolla, Calif. However, his career in medicine is waylaid by the publication of the first novel under his own name, The Andromeda Strain. The novel, about an apocalyptic plague, climbs high on bestseller lists and is later made into a popular film. Crichton said of his decision to pursue writing full time: "To quit medicine to become a writer struck most people like quitting the Supreme Court to become a bail bondsman."
1972: Crichton's second novel under his own name The Terminal Man, is published. Also, two of Crichton's previous works under his pen names, Dealing and A Case of Need are made into movies. After watching the filming, Crichton decides to try his hand at directing. He will eventually direct seven films including the 1973 science-fiction hit Westworld, which was the first film ever to use computer-generated effects.
1980: Crichton draws on his anthropology background and fascination with new technology to create Congo, a best-selling novel about a search for industrial diamonds and a new race of gorillas. The novel, patterned after the adventure writings of H. Ryder Haggard, updates the genre with the inclusion of high-tech gadgets that, although may seem quaint 20 years later, serve to set Crichton's work apart and he begins to cement his reputation as "the father of the techno-thriller."
1990: After the 1980s, which saw the publication of the underwater adventure Sphere (1987) and an invitation to become a visiting writer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1988), Crichton begins the new decade with a bang via the publication of his most popular novel, Jurassic Park. The book is a powerful example of Crichton's use of science and technology as the bedrock for his work. Heady discussion of genetic engineering, chaos theory, and paleontology run throughout the tightly-wound thriller that strands a crew of scientists on an island populated by cloned dinosaurs run amok. The novel inspires the 1993 Steven Spielberg film, and together book and film will re-ignite the worlds fascination with dinosaurs.
1995: Crichton resurrects an idea from his medical school days to create the Emmy-Award Winning television series ER. In this year, ER won eight Emmys and Crichton received an award from the Producers Guild of America in the category of outstanding multi-episodic series. Set in an insanely busy an often dangerous Chicago emergency room, the fast-paced drama is defined by Crichton's now trademark use of technical expertise and insider jargon. The year also saw the publication of The Lost World returning readers to the dinosaur-infested island.
2000: In recognition for Crichton's contribution in popularizing paleontology, a dinosaur discovered in southern China is named after him. "Crichton's ankylosaur" is a small, armored plant-eating dinosaur that dates to the early Jurassic Period, about 180 million years ago. "For a person like me, this is much better than an Academy Award," Crichton said of the honor.
2004: Crichtons newest thriller State of Fear is published.
Amazon.com's Significant Seven
Michael Crichton kindly agreed to take the life quiz we like to give to all our authors: the Amazon.com Significant Seven.
Q: What book has had the most significant impact on your life?
A: Prisoners of Childhood by Alice Miller
Q: You are stranded on a desert island with only one book, one CD, and one DVD--what are they?
A: Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (Witter Bynner version)
Symphony #2 in D Major by Johannes Brahms (Georg Solti)
Ikiru by Akira Kurosawa
Q: What is the worst lie you've ever told?
A: Surely you're joking.
Q: Describe the perfect writing environment.
A: Small room. Shades down. No daylight. No disturbances. Macintosh with a big screen. Plenty of coffee. Quiet.
Q: If you could write your own epitaph, what would it say?
A: I don't want an epitaph. If forced, I would say "Why Are You Here? Go Live Your Life."
Q: Who is the one person living or dead that you would like to have dinner with?
A: Benjamin Franklin
Q: If you could have one superpower what would it be?
From Publishers Weekly
If Crichton is rightif 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 Authors Message calls a "State of Fear," a "near-hysterical preoccupation with safety thats 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 Kenners 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 Kenners 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. Theres 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Reading State of Fear, I found myself confounded by the point of view that began to dominate, that of skepticism regarding the global warming and environmental points of view that I had always more or less taken for granted. Surely Michael Crichton is not suggesting that Global Warming is not a Real Threat?? Can it be??
Well, it's not quite that simple, but first let me comment to the book itself. It's a good read, beginning seemingly as a 'good guy' vs 'bad guy' story with the corporate interests playing the expected role as 'bad guys', but early on there are questions raised about whether or not the bad guys are in fact the corporate interests, or if they are in fact the environmental interests, or are they both equally 'bad'. And then along the way, in the discussions that take place between the characters as they discuss the environmental movement and whether or not it is solidly based on real science and actual data, there is a good amount of real data included, for example charts of the warming trends of cities throughout the world, that do not present the expected evidence of a general warming trend. Is this real data, or something fabricated to support the story? The truth is not fully clear until the book is completed and the afterward is read (Crichton calls it his 'Author's Message' and in two or three pages he lays out very clearly his point of view with respect to the environmental movement and global warming, and it is quite interesting to read).
He also substantiates the data provided throughout the book, and the conclusions he presents in his 'Author's Message', as well as the astonishingly thorough and diverse listing of references that are provided, are such that I have to feel that there is something serious here that merits thoughtful reflection.
If nothing else, it is that afterword, written by Crichton to give his own point of view, that is worth reading. I am appending it here to my review, confident that I am not violating any copyright restrictions since Crichton's own website also offers it for anyone to read.
This is a book that is both entertaining, and as well it is unexpected and thought provoking.
I am still not sure what to make of it.
Michael Crichton's 'Author's Message' from the book State of Fear:
A novel such as State of Fear, in which so many divergent views are expressed, may lead the reader to wonder where, exactly, the author stands on these issues. I have been reading environmental texts for three years, in itself a hazardous undertaking. But I have had an opportunity to look at a lot of data, and to consider many points of view. I conclude:
- We know astonishingly little about every aspect of the environment, from its past history, to its present state, to how to conserve and protect it. In every debate, all sides overstate the extent of existing knowledge and its degree of certainty.
- Atmospheric carbon dioxide is increasing, and human activity is the probable cause.
- We are also in the midst of a natural warming trend that began about 1850, as we emerged from a four-hundred-year cold spell known as the "Little Ice Age."
- Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be a natural phenomenon.
- Nobody knows how much of the present warming trend might be man-made.
- Nobody knows how much warming will occur in the next century. The computer models vary by 400 percent, de facto proof that nobody knows. But if I had to guess-- the only thing anyone is doing, really-- I would guess the increase will be 0.812436 degrees C. There is no evidence that my guess about the state of the world one hundred years from now is any better or worse than anyone else's. (We can't "assess" the future, nor can we "predict" it. These are euphemisms. We can only guess. An informed guess is just a guess.)
- I suspect that part of the observed surface warming will ultimately be attributable to human activity. I suspect that the principal human effect will come from land use, and that the atmospheric component will be minor.
- Before making expensive policy decisions on the basis of climate models, I think it is reasonable to require that those models predict future temperatures accurately for a period of ten years. Twenty would be better.
- I think for anyone to believe in impending resource scarcity, after two hundred years of such false alarms, is kind of weird. I don't know whether such a belief today is best ascribed to ignorance of history, sclerotic dogmatism, unhealthy love of Malthus, or simple pigheadedness, but it is evidently a hardy perennial in human calculation.
- There are many reasons to shift away from fossil fuels, and we will do so in the next century without legislation, financial incentives, carbon-conservation programs, or the interminable yammering of fearmongers. So far as I know, nobody had to ban horse transport in the early twentieth century.
- I suspect the people of 2100 will be much richer than we are, consume more energy, have a smaller global population, and enjoy more wilderness than we have today. I don't think we have to worry about them.
- The current near-hysterical preoccupation with safety is at best a waste of resources and a crimp on the human spirit, and at worst an invitation to totalitarianism. Public education is desperately needed.
- I conclude that most environmental "principles" (such as sustainable development or the precautionary principle) have the effect of preserving the economic advantages of the West and thus constitute modern imperialism toward the developing world. It is a nice way of saying, "We got ours and we don't want you to get yours, because you'll cause too much pollution."
- The "precautionary principle," properly applied, forbids the precautionary principle. It is self-contradictory. The precautionary principle therefore cannot be spoken of in terms that are too harsh.
- I believe people are well intentioned. But I have great respect for the corrosive influence of bias, systematic distortions of thought, the power of rationalization, the guises of self-interest, and the inevitability of unintended consequences.
- I have more respect for people who change their views after acquiring new information than for those who cling to views they held thirty years ago. The world changes. Ideologues and zealots don't.
- In the thirty-five-odd years since the environmental movement came into existence, science has undergone a major revolution. This revolution has brought new understanding of nonlinear dynamics, complex systems, chaos theory, catastrophe theory. It has transformed the way we think about evolution and ecology. Yet these no-longer-new ideas have hardly penetrated the thinking of environmental activists, which seems oddly fixed in the concepts and rhetoric of the 1970s.
- We haven't the foggiest notion how to preserve what we term "wilderness," and we had better study it in the field and learn how to do so. I see no evidence that we are conducting such research in a humble, rational, and systematic way. I therefore hold little hope for wilderness management in the twenty-first century. I blame environmental organizations every bit as much as developers and strip miners. There is no difference in outcomes between greed and incompetence.
- We need a new environmental movement, with new goals and new organizations. We need more people working in the field, in the actual environment, and fewer people behind computer screens. We need more scientists and many fewer lawyers.
- We cannot hope to manage a complex system such as the environment through litigation. We can only change its state temporarily-- usually by preventing something-- with eventual results that we cannot predict and ultimately cannot control.
- Nothing is more inherently political than our shared physical environment, and nothing is more ill served by allegiance to a single political party. Precisely because the environment is shared it cannot be managed by one faction according to its own economic or aesthetic preferences. Sooner or later, the opposing faction will take power, and previous policies will be reversed. Stable management of the environment requires recognition that all preferences have their place: snowmobilers and fly fishermen, dirt bikers and hikers, developers and preservationists. These preferences are at odds, and their incompatibility cannot be avoided. But resolving incompatible goals is a true function of politics.
- We desperately need a nonpartisan, blinded funding mechanism to conduct research to determine appropriate policy. Scientists are only too aware whom they are working for. Those who fund research-- whether a drug company, a government agency, or an environmental organization-- always have a particular outcome in mind. Research funding is almost never open-ended or open-minded. Scientists know that continued funding depends on delivering the results the funders desire. As a result, environmental organization "studies" are every bit as biased and suspect as industry "studies." Government "studies" are similarly biased according to who is running the department or administration at the time. No faction should be given a free pass.
- I am certain there is too much certainty in the world.
- I personally experience a profound pleasure being in nature. My happiest days each year are those I spend in wilderness. I wish natural environments to be preserved for future generations. I am not satisfied they will be preserved in sufficient quantities, or with sufficient skill. I conclude that the "exploiters of the environment" include environmental organizations, government organizations, and big business. All have equally dismal track records.
- Everybody has an agenda. Except me.
I've been intrigued by his writings since the early 1970's, when I personally attended an early showing of 'Andromeda Strain' at a large California Bay Area university. Even evidently impared that evening by the prevalent university student entertainment habits, his creativity and wide based knowledge was striking. Still is.
The History of politicized environmental controversy has engendered as much bigotry and self deception as eugenics and witch hunts of yesteryear. Dogma thus derived, yields conflict and ignorance and destruction of the noble objective sought by both sides of the controversy.
The great value in this book is that it does present another side to the debate over global warming. Mind you, I still am leaning towards the conviction that the world is in a global warming period, but, I am not as certain as I was. Nor am I so sure this is the evil that many claim it to be. Of course, that may be because I reside in frigid North Dakota, land of minus forty winters.
For the sake of marketing, and for the sake of the artistry or the craftsmanship, in fact, I believe the writer tried to feed more of his opinion (albeit, certainly, an informed and persuasive opinion) than was truly necessary for the story. Crichton likely will one day prove that his reasoning was justified, though, because he clearly was trying to make a valid point. Well, several valid points, really. In that endeavor, he had just enough facts and suppositions to convince me to do my own research.
Where State of Fear is at its greatest, is when it leaves most of the politics and science behind, and propels us to New Guinea. At this South Pacific island it transform a tense thriller into a terrific action-adventure. Because Crichton so often kills his darlings, you learn not to let your guard down.
I sincerely wish Crichton were still alive. I would urge him to write a series based on the earlier life of his mysterious hero, Kenner. John Kenner is sort of a Yank version of James Bond and, presumably, Michael Crichton's alter ego.
To summarize, State of Fear is a fun action-adventure ride with a heaping of science, pseudo-science, and political science all meshed together into a science fiction masterpiece.
It's easy to regard this as an Op-Ed novel, however then we must look at all of Science as Op-Ed. I have degrees in Math and Astronomy, and have long regarded Scientific Theory as opinion since I was taught that Scientific Theories, unlike Math Theories, can only be disproved, never proved. ScientifricTheories can never be proved since we don't know what future observation will declare.
The inability to prove theories significantly applies to Crichton's distinction between Global Climate Change and Global Climate Warming. As such I regard State of Fear as a wonderful exposition.
The redundancy in the novel resulted in my giving 4 instead of 5 stars. On the plus side, I finished the book, perhaps, sooner since I skimmed a number of sections and notes.
I recommend this book with only the redudancy reservation.
From 45 miles north of Hilo, Hawaii...