I’m a little wary of dead authors. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’ve ever been haunted by any of them. It’s because of this thing that the publishers do nowadays : getting other people to continue writing stories whose original authors have died. These books are almost inevitably disappointments. But people still buy them. Sometimes out of curiosity or loyalty. Sometimes being fooled by the name of original author emblazoned on the cover. For example, I was a victim of this ruse : Alistair Maclean‘s Air Force One Is Down by John Denis. And don’t even get me started on Robert Ludlum‘s The Bourne Whatever-s by Eric Van Lustbader. i doubt if poor Ludlum’s soul will ever rest in peace.
The point of this rather lengthy introduction, is to give you an idea of the dilemma I was in at the bookstore last week when the guy there gave me Michael Crichton’s Micro. I was barely out of school when I had read “Congo” for the first time, and I have been a fan of Michael Crichton ever since. Except his very early novels which I couldn’t find anywhere (the ones he wrote under the pen-name of John Lange or Michael Douglas), I’ve read just about everything he ever wrote, and I’ve loved most of it. So I spent quite a few minutes fidgeting with the book until loyalty won over caution. Also, the summary on the back cover did seem interesting.
I finished the 659 page book in two nights. It’s a terrifying blend of nature and technology, and it rocks! Time and again while reading the book I was reminded of the vintage Crichton masterpieces like Sphere and Jurassic Park. The story goes like this : A company called Nanigen has developed the technology the change the dimensions of both living organisms and non-living objects using very strong magnetic fields. They invite a few graduate students for a field demonstration and recruitment to their bio-preserve in Hawaii. Pete Jansen, one of the students is reluctant at first. However, after a cryptic message from his brother who worked for the company and died under mysterious circumstances, Peter decides to go to the company labs and investigate.
The students eventually end up being shrunk to about a centimeter tall versions of themselves, and find themselves stranded in the rainforest. What follows is a race against time and a running battle of survival with nature, with near impossible odds. It’s here that the plot turns genuinely scary. The author produces a terrifying view of the rainforest that is completely unknown to any of us. The research that has gone into the novel is both astonishing and extensive. The astonishing variety of dangers that a tiny human being would face in such an environment is hard to accept, and yet, the book never fails to convince you. The things that we never pay attention to in our normal lives, like an apparently harmless beetle or a mosquito, Micro shows how a simple change of scale can turn them into predators far more menacing than any shark or wolf that you see on Animal Planet. Throughout the book, it’s this theme that stands out : how amazing and varied a world lives within an inch of the ground, unknown to us, and how a man’s chances of survival in that world range from slim to none. Added to that are the fascinating and equally dangerous micro-bots or miniature robots manufactured and operated by Nanigen.
I’m not telling you any more of the story. Believe me, if you are a science fiction lover, you should at least give it a shot. As for the dead author issue that I mentioned at the outset, you have nothing to fear. It is said that Crichton was well into Micro when he passed away. Richard Preston, the guy who was selected to finish the book, has done his job well. You’ll hardly get the “this-is-not-Crichton” feeling, even if you’re a fan.
One last thing about the book : once you’ve read it, you’d probably look at wasps and birds and caterpillars with a new-found respect. How is that?
- Out-of-print Michael Crichton novels set to be republished as ebooks (guardian.co.uk)
- Disclosure, by Michael Crichton, Reviewed (stuartaken.blogspot.com)
- Michael Crichton (climatedeniers.org)