Friday, July 19, 2013

Crichton & Preston, Micro

The book club is just going to LOVE this one, Michael Crichton and Richard Preston's Micro. There's some debate, I think, about just how far into the book Crichton was when he passed away in 2008, but however far in he was, the decision was made to bring in Richard Preston to finish the job.

Now, Preston's a hell of a writer, I keep hearing, and I quite enjoyed his book The Wild Trees, but he isn't really a novelist. Given that his shelf contains one novel and a series of well-respected nonfiction books, he was an odd choice to complete a Michael Crichton page-turner, even if (as I suspect) there was a healthy support team at Harper Collins and/or at Crichton HQ.

Novelist and reviewer Robert Wiersema isn't always right, shockingly, but he's mostly right in his review of Micro, calling it "neither a good book nor a good read." The joke is that he has just said of Crichton's other works that while none of them are good books, at least they're good reads, so his objection to Micro goes only one step beyond his objections to other Crichton novels. Still ... not very heartening, is it?

The science in the novel is wonderful, though. The characters are stereotypical enough to verge on cartoons, the plotting is sketchy enough that at times I felt like we just weren't supposed to mind the obvious ridiculous gaps in narrative probability (as distinct from the entirely allowable scientific improbability), and the thematics are just a mess, but there was something very appealing about the depictions of life at a microscopic level. You're probably better off watching Microcosmos if you'd appreciate just the unexplained images of insect existence, but as a green nerd, I enjoyed lots of the bug science sections.

All the detective work, gun battles, venture capitalism, romance, and grad student life, now: not so much.

"And I, for one, welcome our new insect overlords!"
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that my review is probably coloured by my antipathy toward the portrayal of Danny Minot, a humanities grad student studying science discourse, who keeps getting all postmodern up in the scientists' grills, saying things like "But what is real, anyway?" and "Nature is just a construct". Quite apart from the slander implied against the great state of North Dakota, and against my former volleyball teammate Karen King who spent quite a bit of time in Minot, even though she's not the same Karen King as is in this novel, it's just .... Preston, you have an English degree. What the hell, man? You see your peers as Danny Minot? I don't want to give away much of the plot, but let's just say that the rogue capitalist isn't the only horrible individual in the novel, and I was disappointed that the humanities guy was so irredeemable.

I'd recommend this book for -- well, for no one, really. It's definitely no Under the Dome, but go read anyything else Richard Preston has ever written instead, and you'll be a better person as well as more entertained. Micro just doesn't didn't cut it for me, even though some people apparently and inexplicably loved this novel.