Tuesday, November 13, 2012

State of Fear Review

State of FearState of Fear by Michael Crichton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

State of Fear is a book that I'm pretty torn on. There were very high spots in the novel, that made me laugh, or cry, made me love the characters, made me want to keep reading, but there were also very low spots in the novel that made me angry. Most notable is the ever present and heavy handed bias of the narrative. I'm not sure how much of this bias is Mr. Crichton's, but the character's often feel like venomous mouthpieces through which he conveys his utter disdain for any and all environmental movements.

Now I can agree that a lot of what we hear in regards to the environment is misinformation and corporate fallacy. I mean, the environment is dying so they ban asthmatic inhalers that actually work but still mass produce hairspray? The environment is dying so they get rid of efficient light bulbs and force everyone to use three crappy light bulbs to make up the difference? Clearly somebody is profiting from all this nonsense.

But that doesn't mean human beings aren't wrecking the environment. The book stands firmly in the "It's all part of a natural process" camp, and there is a lot of truth to that. It is all part of a natural process. That doesn't mean we just let it happen, or as the fact is, accelerate that process. And there is so much of what's going on that is directly caused by human influence, that it can't all be part of a natural process.

Global climate change? Natural process. Global climate change because of a hole in the atmosphere? Probably not a natural process.

The main problem with attempting to make this argument is that the book's narrative claims human beings are part of the "natural process," so anything we do is all part of the "natural process." "Like beavers," one of the primary characters at one point says. Unfortunately, humans were evolved primarily in Africa. We started destroying everything after leaving Africa. Just like how if you take a beaver and put it somewhere it doesn't belong, it will quickly wreck everything. Just like pythons, anacondas, and snakeheads. And that is not a natural process.

Outside of excessively conservative and sheltered bias, the plot has quite a few issues. Several subplots are introduced that are never resolved, the story makes little sense when you stand back to look at it, and the villains really don't have any motivation whatsoever other than "They're the stupid, greedy villains." The protagonist fits the blank-slate, dumb protagonist mold to fill in for the reader who goes into this adventure just as blind and learns along the way. This doesn't help at all the feeling that Crichton is sitting you down and screaming about how stupid you are for nearly six-hundred pages.

The main female protagonist, Sarah, hardly has any narrative moments. When she does, she's constantly commenting about how "Oh, Peter Evans isn't quite my type," without any real provocation for those thoughts, and "Oh, that's my Peter, get off him slut," and "Oh, he's actually pretty handsome and cool and sexy." There are times where she kicks some butt, but that's all overshadowed as it becomes apparent that her only purpose is sex and the need for a female.

All females are portrayed like this, by the way. They're all basically dangling meat curtains. Go have a party there.

Almost every character, with the exception of Peter Evans, the protagonist, are excessively pompous individuals. There is no discussion, no compromise, and no matter who you ask they are never, ever wrong. The villains are like this, the heroes are like this, even the love interests and booty calls are like this. Nobody is wrong, period. Except for when the narrative makes sure to let you know they are, which is whenever there's an environmentalist available.

All environmentalists, even the ones who aren't hardcore, are portrayed and even described as "Stupid." Which is a problem when the purpose was to enlighten people to the "truths" of the "environmental crisis." You don't do that by alienating the audience. All that's happening is choir preaching. No ground being covered. One half of the people will leave offended, the other half will leave satisfied that the rest of the world is full of idiots.

All of these negatives are unfortunate, because there is some real charming character interaction when they aren't being total dicks or assaulting the audience with some long-winded lesson. Unfortunately, that can't save the story at all. There are also a lot of cool environments explored, from Antarctica to tropical islands, and in that sense there's a boyish adventure charm about the whole thing.

Unfortunately, the bias is too heavy to be overlooked, the characters are too annoying to ignore, and while I don't regret reading the book I'm pretty positive there's better ones out there. Even in Mr. Crichton's resumé.

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