Sunday, March 27, 2011

Book Review: State of Fear, Michael Crichton

It might have taken me a few renewals and a few return-hold-pickup cycles at my community library to get through this book, but I have finally managed to get through it.  My records tell me this quest to read State of Fear started sometime back in November last year!
But don't let my sloth in finishing this book talk about its goodness. If anything look at my penchant to finish it, somehow! Anyhow!
It has been a very-very-very long time that I have read a novel cover-to-cover under mounting work and less-than-optimal personal time management. That is if I were to skip my re-read of Herman Hesse's Siddartha on my flight to-and-fro to India (which still happens to be my #0 favorite) . I did manage to read a few of Harry Potter's volumes though.
Without jogging my memory too hard, these are the two latest failed trysts with literary work:
0. The Glass Bead Game : (aka, Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse
1. Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse
I guess these books were a bit too heavy on spirituality/philosophy for my mind to take on as casual bedtime reading. One needs to set aside considerable chunk of time to enjoy them.  So I thought of falling back on my regular thriller and sci-fi. 
This is the first novel of Crichton's I have read and I was quite thrilled.  Frankly, I picked up this work only because I liked Jurassic Park, which was adapted from his work by same title. To date that movie remains in my list of top 5 movies. 
As to the novel itself... But let me put you at ease first.
Dont' worry, there are no spoilers, so read on...
The book is a wonderfully thought provoking techno-thriller, revolving around the (what I now believe to be highly distorted and misunderstood!) phenomenon of Global Warming.  And if there is one thing that I adore a lot, it is a constructive-thought-provoking material. The journey from crowded concrete jungles of LA through the glaciers of Iceland to volcanoes of Antarctica to Arizonian deserts to the spine chilling jungles of Solomon Islands, for the lack of better work, the journey is just breathtaking.
Though mostly bordering around the realm of fiction, his work highlights quite a few interesting (lesser known and often ugly) facts that we don't get to hear.  The Appendix-I, in particular,  earned my greatest interest.
The author must have done quite a bit of research, as is evident from numerous footnotes, graphs cited from scientific papers & journals, two rich appendices and a whooping twenty page bibliography.
The broader point that the book tries to make  is quite remarkable.  75% of the book (quite literally!) goes on and on about whether global warming is really something we need to worry about and whether we can stop or is it just yet another meticulously orchestrated corporate charade. Nothing too out of the ordinary.  I kept going along only because it was entertaining and the suspense was quite enticing.
But I almost read the remaining 25% of the book (the last 200 pages) in almost 2-3 seating (yes, that did cost me quite a bit of my sleep, but I suppose it was totally worth it). The book takes on a very interesting and engaging turn when the some Professor Hoffman from USC enters the picture and the title of the book is quoted, verbatim, for the first time since the beginning: State of Fear.  That, my dear friends, is when the real book starts. Until that point, there is no connection to the title of the book and story. This is the point where all the dots seem to connect, and things seem to light up.
I don't quite know how to put it, but you will need to have a certain kind of inclination, or quality, of lack thereof, if you will, to like this work. No, I don't mean tendencies towards conspiracy theories, but my vocabulary just isn't rich enough yet to describe that quality.  Without divulging too much of the plot, the fans of Nineteen-Eighty-Four (by George Orwell) should definitely devour this work of Crichton's.
The book has played right into my pessimistic optimism. But besides that main theme, the book now also has me yearning for the composure, knowledge and the right balance of arrogance-and-humility that Kenner carries (and, not to forget, a girlfriend like Sarah too :-P).  (Yes, I recently have had an epiphany about the importance of the right amount of arrogance to earn respect in this effing world. More on that some other day).
Moral, though slightly indirect, that I took away is, man has never been able to and will never be able to fathom the way Mother Nature works to the fullest.  And so she is best left alone, with as much of little interference from effing pesky humans as is possible.  You can admire her, you can nourish her, you can bask in her glory, and even cry over her apathy towards you, you can even caress her, but you can NEVER freakin' try to change her so as to suit your needs.  Lest you face unforeseen and unimaginable repercussions and pay princely prices for your interference.  A price not measured in terms of money, beware, which is but just a man-made necessary evil, but price in terms of life itself.
And there a quite a few documented cases (really large scale cases) presented in appendix to support that observation. Worth a read, even if you skip the book and just read them. Of course, they will be a bit out of context, but will still drive the point home.  Also, it has bolstered my very strongly held belief: Never trust any corporation!

Anyway, the bottom line is (because that is what increasingly everybody cares about these days ~~sigh~~) this techno-thriller will not only whet your hunger for suspense, action and thrill, but also provide a little food for your post-dinner thoughts.
I should now be onto another book that I have been putting off for almost a decade now (yes, decade, that was not a typo!) Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (and its revised version Brave New World Revisited).  Already put a hold at library, can't wait to get my hands on them, am looking forward to enjoying these books.

More suggestions for a good read are most welcome.

P.S.: If you want to enjoy the novel as much as I did, then don't read any revealing reviews, esp. Wikipedia. Read'em after you are done with the novel.