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Michael Crichton: "State of Fear"

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It looks like Michael Crichton has the right idea about global warming and how eco-terrorists use it's concept now a days.

I just read this at CNN this morning:

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Michael Crichton is a big man with big ideas, a storyteller of nearly 7 feet who turns popular science into popular fiction.

In "Timeline," he sends characters back in time using quantum physics. Aliens deliver a threatening disease to the world in "The Andromeda Strain," and in "Jurassic Park," perhaps his most accessible novel, dinosaurs are created from ancient DNA.

Now he's questioning global warming in his new thriller, "State of Fear," about eco-terrorists who plot a series of natural disasters -- earthquakes, underwater landslides, a tsunami -- to prove that global warming is a threat to humanity. A ragtag band of scientists and lawyers uncovers the scheme.

"State of Fear" sounds like a typical Crichton thriller, but this time he's using the novel as a platform, tacking on a five-page message stating his notion that the theory of global warming is speculative at best, and a 14-page bibliography of works supporting his views.

"It was very difficult to get my head around the idea that this widely held belief may not be true, and I thought, 'If I'm going to do a book, how would I structure it so that someone could even hear it a little bit?' " he says, crammed into an armchair meant for size regular at his hotel suite, his youthful face dimpled as he yanks out different graphs to illustrate his point.

Crichton, with more than 100 million copies of his books in print, is ready to defend his view -- he's armed with a tape recorder, a steep pile of colorful graphs, scientific data and text books. Pushing rimless glasses up higher on his nose, he's eager to discuss the environment and he's certain his ideas are right. But he doesn't allow ego to swallow him and is quick to laugh at himself and back off when his lecture becomes overbearing.

More than three years ago, the 6-foot-9-inch Crichton read about global warming and grew curious. Having a conventional view that global warming is a threat, he began to study climate data and charts, expecting to find proof. However, the more he hunted, the more unsatisfied he became with the evaluations and speculations.

"I have a lot of trouble with things that don't seem true to me," Crichton says, his large, manicured hands gesturing to his graphs. "I'm very uncomfortable just accepting. There's something in me that wants to pound the table and say, 'That's not true.' "

He spoke to few scientists about his questions, convinced that he could interpret the data himself. "If we put everything in the hands of experts and if we say that as intelligent outsider, we are not qualified to look over the shoulder of anybody, then we're in some kind of really weird world," he says.

Mark Twain and Alfred Hitchcock

Crichton, though, may have more experience than most in working with science. The 62-year-old writer grew up in Roslyn, Long Island. His father was a journalist and young Michael spent much of his childhood writing extra papers for teachers. In third grade, he wrote a nine-page play that his father typed for him using carbon paper so the other kids would know their parts.

He was tall, gangly and awkward, and used writing as a way to escape; Mark Twain and Alfred Hitchcock were his role models.

Figuring he would not be able to make a living as writer, he decided to become a doctor. He studied anthropology at Harvard College, and later graduated from Harvard Medical School. During medical school, he cranked out books under pseudonyms. (One that the tall author used was Jeffrey Hudson, a 17th-century dwarf in the court of King Charles II of England.) He had modest success with his writing and decided to pursue it.

Some books take a long time to write, such as "Disclosure," which took five years. Others require less time, but Crichton has a pretty rigid writing schedule: He gets up early and writes from about 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. or so, taking a break for lunch. And, oddly, he's never confident in his work.

Many of Crichton's books have been made into movies, including "The Andromeda Strain," "Rising Sun" and "Jurassic Park," which was directed by Steven Spielberg. Crichton created the TV hospital series "ER" in 1994. Now in its 11th season, "ER" has won 21 Emmy Awards and the George Foster Peabody Award. He's even had a dinosaur named for him, Crichton's ankylosaur.

He is the kind of celebrity celebrities want to be: rich and famous and prolific but not too recognizable -- although his staggering height does attract attention.

"Of course, the celebrity's nice. But when I go do research it's much more difficult now. The kind of freedom I had 10 years ago is gone," he says. "You have to good table manners. You can't have spaghetti hanging out of your mouth at a restaurant."

His HarperCollins editor, Marjorie Braman, says Crichton's books are a joy to edit, even with the science tinge.

"He has a gift to translate science for the reader, and not only translate it but work it into the midst of an exciting novel," said Braman, who has never before seen an author's message like Crichton's.

"I think it's entirely appropriate because it is a novel of ideas," she said. "Michael Crichton, because of his stature and fame for not only writing books, but TV and movies -- well people do wonder what he thinks."

Still an environmentalist

Crichton's books are a guaranteed sell, which is good news for independent book sellers such as Books & Books in Miami.

"I think when people are buying fiction, they're buying authors who they can feel confident in the entertainment value of their work," Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, said. "With Michael Crichton, people have come to expect that. At the same time, they can learn about subjects they may not know a lot about."

Crichton's author's statement is new even for Crichton. In it, he argues that a political agenda, not scientific evidence, is the foundation for predictions that the planet's climate will warm by 4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. World powers, he says, use global warming to keep citizens in a state of fear, just as they did with the Cold War. But Crichton is noticeably vague about who these powers are.

Yet many climate scientists have endorsed climate change predictions. Climate records continue to fall as many different regions experience warmer temperatures than they have in centuries. While it is always possible that the experts are wrong, that possibility diminishes with each passing year as evidence mounts for a connection between carbon dioxide emissions and climate warming.

Crichton considers himself an environmentalist, no matter what. "Why are we not feeding people in this world who are hungry? Why are we not giving clean water to the almost billion people who don't have clean water? The greatest sources of environmental degradation is poverty. Why aren't we cleaning up poverty?"

That's a mystery for someone else to solve, he says; he's just content having brought it to the masses.

Crichton expects critics will jump on him for his views on global warming and it won't be the first time. In 1992, he was called a "racist" for his novel, "Rising Sun," which spotlighted U.S.-Japan relations amid fretfulness about the Japanese incursion into the American economy.

"The initial response from the (Japanese) establishment was, 'You're a racist,"' he recalls. "So then, because I'm always trying to deal with data, I went on a tour talking about it and gave a very careful argument, and their response came back, 'Well you say that but we know you're a racist."'

But in the end, "State of Fear," like "Rising Sun" and "Jurassic Park" and other Crichton works, are stories. Although the author says that inevitably someone will think the story true in a "War of the Worlds" sort of way. He's seen it happen before.

"Somebody was going to pass a law preventing research leading to the creation of a dinosaur after 'Jurassic Park,' " he says. "I was just holding my breath hoping it would happen, but I guess somebody finally whispered to him, 'It's a novel.' "

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I think Michael Crighton is a great writer in style. His books are enjoyable. It sounds like he is about to get back in my good graces with this global warming honesty, BUT...

He is a luddite. Not a marxist exactly, but a luddite in the same way that Marx was. The theme overwhelmingly mixed into his novels is that man is an impotent, bumbling, unworthy guest in the universe. Technology has evil magical powers. The dinosaurs win, The alien wins, the micromachines achieve a stalemate, etc.

Two examples of this are the slogan from Jurassic Park, "life finds a way..." to reveal man's arrogance, and what could be called his "declaration of destruction" which makes up the prologue of the book "Prey." In this prologue technology is basically declared to have magical evil powers that, combined with man's freedom to produce and trade, inevitably lead to disaster and the end of the world.

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He is a luddite. 

I'd agree with your point in that technology/man almost always ends up tying with nature. The only book I reall thought showed something different was Eater of the Dead. But then that was an interpritation of Beowulf. My friend ripped the forward out of the paperback so all I had to go on was the story. It took a little while to snap to what I was reading but it enhanced the exerpience. It's also the case where modern manking was able to self defensively wipe out the remainder of cro-magnon man. And he kept Bulva as a true thinking warrior and hero.

I was afraid he would have tried to "humanise" him. But he presented Bulva/Beowulf as a smart man who knew how to lead and how to extract the most out of his people. Mind you, they did a somewhat faithful adaption when they made The 13th Warriror. The one thing I wanted to see is someone or something literally stand up in the movie and shout "you're experiencing Beowulf" in order to get some people to read Eaters of the Dead or Beowulf.

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I'm about 3/4 of the way through State of Fear. I won't lay out any spoilers, but the book can be very difficult at times. The main character in the book - the one who the reader is most often following, the one who's developing conflicting love interests, the one who is going through self-discoveries - is a bumbling idiot. He whines and pleads with the same voice you want to give to Jim Taggart, is generally impotent when things go wrong, and seems to survive by stumbling along and getting lucky a lot.

What's really strange is that the book does have a hero, however he's a side character that Crichton drags out whenever it's time to get the story moving again. He's powerful and intelligent, periodically lectures the reader and the main character about the difference between consensus and reality, and is a more believable character to boot. However, every time this side character gets things moving again, he steps off the page and leaves the story to slow down again.

What's stranger still, is that Crichton seems to think the bumbling fellow is the better of the two. I haven't finished yet, but the most interesting female in the book expresses some passing fancy for the side hero, then seems to be growing more attached to the main character. Unless something swift happens in the last chapters, it's going to be like reading a version of The Fountainhead where Keating gets the girl.

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That's neat about Eaters of the Dead, I had no idea it was beowulf right down to the name "bulva."  Maybe the prologue was offensive and your friend burned it...

Actually he knew I was a enjoyed Beowulf and thought I'd recognize the story without the spoilers that Chriton threw into the introduction. As I said it didn't take long to snap to Eaters being an alternative history version of Beowulf. I've since bought a nice copy of Eaters and enjoy reading it as a quick "fluffy" read.

The prologue is pretty much two seperate issues: Chriton bemoaned the durth of classical literature in the modern education system and a strong sense of "what if a 'culturally advanced' Arab scribe exerienced Beowulf first hand." Which the first feeling actually dovetailed into something I heard from him.

He moved back to New Hampshire or one of the original 13 since people in the South are pretty much incapable of providing a decent education to anyone. Hence, he sent his kids to a private New England shool because the south had no decent schools. Having been educated and raised in the south it irked me to no extent becuase he cut the shaff with a pretty wide path.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I highly suggest that a critically thinking person get a hold of a copy of the book "State of Fear", not for the novel - which I find interesting, but for the bibliography. I found that the few of the references that I have checked so far to be very informative. I am looking forward to checking more of the references.

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I have "State of Fear" sitting beside my bed, waiting to be read. First must complete 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds. I was disapointed to read that the main character is a bumbling idiot, but maybe it will be ok.

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  • 1 month later...

Having read State of Fear, I take the main character to be a mere reflection of what most people think about global warming, but not an environmentalist psycho like the people he represents. I think the ending of the book is fantastic, and is worth reading, and the science interwoven into the plot is very interesting and informative.

I like how the actor Ted meets his end.

For another, perhaps better, novel on environmentalist ideology put into action, read Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. One of the best endings in all of fiction.

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I finished the book and like OldGrayBob, believe the best value comes from the bibliography. It’s a shame that one has to turn to a work of fiction for such a fine collection of information

That said, I was entertained and view the main character (I won't say protagonist) as necessarily wimpy and bumbling. Another character makes a very satisfactory arc and Kenner is kind of like Crichton’s John Galt- central but not the center.

I won’t say more lest I spoil the book, but given the Crichton’s perspective on this issue I found State of Fear, just like Clancy’s Rainbow Six, quite cathartic.

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I just finished "State of Fear" and recommend it on a couple of levels. I think it works as a typical Michael Crichton adventure novel, which is why he sells a lot of books. On some levels it reminds me of Atlas Shrugged, and would not at all be surprised if he had read it (but not fully understood it.) The central focus of the novel (SOF) is epistemology. It is about the unraveling of a mystery, namely, how do you know that what "everyone knows" is true? The answer, generally, is that you know by exercising some independent judgement and verifying one's theories by checking the facts of reality.

The main character is not particularly heroic, but I think Crichton purposefully put the main character in the same mental state of his typical readers - biased in favor of environmentalist propoganda, but open to learning through exposure to better scientific process. I think this character served to help guide the average reader along their epistemological upgrade, by mirroring the sorts of doubts, concerns, and realizations Crichton expects of them.

The best result of the book is that radical environmentalists were portrayed as evil, anti-life, anti-science, primative, and malevolent. That's worth a lot, long term, and I hope this will strongly affect a lot of high school and college kids and lead them to challenge their years of school propaganda.

As for Crichton's own views, they probably mirror Bjorn Lomborg's. Though he is "pro-science" and even seems to think the best environmentalism is private-sector, he shows some utilitarian leanings, and at least some amount of anti-ideology epistemological skepticism as well. And Crichton said at the end that, personally, his happiest days are ones spent in the wilderness, so he's not really too pro-industry and development, other than realizing that this helps 3rd world people out of poverty and early death. The intellectual hero was focused on showing people that they didn't know what they thought they knew for sure, which in effect turned a bit into an "anti-certainty" theme. On the other hand, the intellectual hero was very certain about numerous facts, including the fact that certain "facts" were not established scientifically.

(possible mild spoilers)

Other superficial similarities to Atlas Shrugged:

There was also a mysterious character who brings a new, pro-factual worldview to several people, "converting" them to the opposition. And there was also a character who had to masquerade as something he wasn't in order to undermine the opposition.

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For those of you who found Crichton’s bibliography valuable, there are now many on-line sources of information that refute global warming and a whole host of other environmental and health scares. The philosophy at some of these web sites is a little shaky, but their facts are invaluable. Here are three that I found helpful (they contain many additional links).

The American Council on Science and Health is here: http://www.acsh.org/ They publish many articles dealing with the health scares.

They also publish a report called “Facts versus Fears” that documents some 28 health scares that were overblown, if not completely unfounded, and they expose how the EPA, FDA, other government agencies and researchers distort data or outright lie to defend a position. The report is available in PDF format here:

http://www.acsh.org/publications/pubID.154/pub_detail.asp The link to the PDF document is on the right hand side of the page. It is an infuriating but extremely useful read.

Fred Singer runs a program called the Science and Environmental Policy Project here: http://www.sepp.org/ He has compiled a significant amount of data exposing the global warming myth, the ozone myth and more.

Another good site run by Steve Malloy, called Junk Science, is here: http://www.junkscience.com/ He, too, exposes the frauds and lies that the media report as facts.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I think State of Fear's value is that it will get thousands of people to question global warming, people who otherwise never would have questioned it. Very few people will ever bother to read science research papers on the subject, but hundreds of thousands will read a Michael Crichton novel. And whereas many thousands also read Tom Clancy books, such as Rainbow Six, most of his readers are not liberals. So I think Crichton is reaching a larger audience of global warming supporters.

The story itself is pretty good, and John Kenner is definitely a heroic character. I agree with those who say that Peter Evans, the main character, is meant as the average American supporter of environmentalism---someone taken in by the environmentalist propaganda and their media supporters.

But in the end, the philanthropist, George Morton, makes the fatal mistake so common among collectivists. He wants to start new and "different" environmental organizations. It is like those who say the Soviet Union was bad, and Communist China was bad, and Vietnam was bad, and Cambodia was bad---but communism isn't bad. We just need a new and improved communism/environmentalism, with better leaders.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I have read and enjoyed several of Crichton's novels and found them all engrossing. He has an excellent technical grasp, which appeals to engineering minds like mine.

Reading this thread has inspired me to buy his book, so while I was out shopping today, I picked up a copy. I plan to read it this week.

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  • 3 months later...

I just finished State of Fear last night, at 3:30AM. I couldn't stop til it was done! Great read, but very interesting to me on the scientific front as well.

I don't consider myself to be one of the 'sheep' who just accepts what's told to me through media and the like, but the references in this story, and the way things were explained so cogently are making me reexamine my own conclusions and I'm tempted to think that I really have been one of the sheep.

I'm not an environmental crackpot but I do drive a hybrid, I have read The Legacy of Luna, and I like the books of John Robbins. Incidentally, if any of you haven't you should check out books by John Robbins, as he has copious footnotes and a huge bibliography of sources to back up his (non-fictional) books. Most of his writing is about the FDA, the meat and dairy industries, and the failure of our rich western diet, but he does get a little into environmental topics.

Which brings me to my main point. I'm an intelligent person, and much of this is confusing me to no end. There are studies that support one side, then there are other studies that support the other side. Michael Crichton himself admits that many scientific studies are biased one way or the other to support the viewpoint of the body commissioning the work. So if these studies all conflict each other, how are we laymen supposed to make any sense out of it? The easiest thing is to just throw up your hands and decide to do just whatever suits our own personal agenda, but that's not right. The other alternative is to try to become a scientist. What, just so I can feel 100% confident in my stance when talking to (probably) some bullet-head who has chosen the side that supports his own agenda regardless of the truth? It sure is a lot harder road to travel to be one of the informed, not just a follower.

Anyways, Crichton's book State of Fear is entertaining AND valuable if you want something to make you think about things (ow, brain hurts...).

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  • 1 year later...

For another, perhaps better, novel on environmentalist ideology put into action, read Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. One of the best endings in all of fiction.

I enthusiastically second the recommendation for Rainbow Six. In addition to being a good story, it does a very good job of concretizing the man-hating evil of environmentalism.

And yes, the ending is wonderful!

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