[Paleopsych] NYTBR: (Crighton) 'State of Fear': Not So Hot
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The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > 'State of Fear': Not So Hot
January 30, 2005
[First chapter appended.]
By BRUCE BARCOTT
STATE OF FEAR
By Michael Crichton.
603 pp. HarperCollins Publishers. $27.95.
There's a problem with Michael Crichton's new thriller, and it shows
up before the narrative even begins. In a disclaimer that follows the
copyright page, Crichton writes: ''This is a work of fiction.
Characters, corporations, institutions and organizations in this novel
are the product of the author's imagination, or, if real, are used
fictitiously without any intent to describe their actual conduct.
However, references to real people, institutions and organizations
that are documented in footnotes are accurate. Footnotes are real.''
Yes, there will be footnotes. Although ''State of Fear'' comes dressed
as an airport-bookstore thriller, Crichton's readers will discover
halfway through their flight that the novel more closely resembles one
of those Ann Coulter ''Liberals Are Stupid'' jobs. Liberals,
environmentalists and many other straw men endure a stern thrashing in
''State of Fear,'' but Crichton's primary target is the theory of
global warming, which he believes is a scientific delusion. In his
zeal to expose the emperor's nudity the author cites, ad nauseam,
actual studies that seem to contradict the conventional wisdom on
global warming. Hence, footnotes.
Scholarly trappings aside, ''State of Fear'' does follow the basic
conventions of the mass-market thriller. There are villains, there are
heroes and there is an evil plot to be foiled. Chief among the baddies
is Nicholas Drake, head of an environmental group called the National
Environmental Resource Fund (NERF), who has conspired with radical
eco-terrorists to trigger a series of climate-related catastrophes.
Drake believes the disasters will convince the public that global
warming is an imminent crisis that can be averted only by writing big
fat checks to NERF. As Drake explains to a P.R. man, John Henley,
global warming simply isn't scary enough. ''You can't raise a dime
with it, especially in winter,'' he says. ''Every time it snows people
forget all about global warming. Or else they decide some warming
might be a good thing after all. They're trudging through the snow,
hoping for a little global warming. It's not like pollution, John.
Pollution worked. It still works. . . . You tell 'em they'll get
cancer, and the money rolls in. But nobody is scared of a little
Opposing Drake is John Kenner, an M.I.T. professor who moonlights as a
007-style agent for the National Security Intelligence Agency. When
he's not dispatching thugs, Kenner spends most of his time disabusing
new acquaintances of the wrongheaded scientific notions they've
absorbed from the news media. Global warming, he says, was ''a setup
from the beginning,'' a wrongheaded theory foisted upon the public by
unscrupulous scientists and fear-mongering environmental leaders.
Between Kenner and Drake stands Peter Evans, a mild-mannered attorney
for NERF whose loyalty to the do-gooding tree huggers melts away in
the heat of Kenner's relentless climatology lectures. In the
cartoonish political world Crichton creates in ''State of Fear,''
Kenner and Drake exist as extreme symbols of a good red conservative
and an evil blue liberal struggling to win a swing state. Peter Evans
Crichton clearly enjoys drawing the line between fact and fiction
exceedingly fine. Nicholas Drake's fellow travelers include George
Morton, a billionaire philanthropist who's pledged $10 million to
NERF; Ted Bradley, an actor and environmental activist who plays the
United States president on a popular TV drama; and a shadowy band of
eco-terrorists known as the Environmental Liberation Front (ELF). The
author's disclaimer notwithstanding, it's impossible not to identify
these folks as stand-ins for the billionaire philanthropist George
Soros, the ''West Wing'' star Martin Sheen and the real-life Earth
Liberation Front. The nonfictional N.R.D.C. finds itself burdened with
an acronym, NERF, symbolizing all that is soft, squishy and childish.
Sheen's doppelgänger comes in for portraiture so villainous -- a
drunken lecherous crybaby blowhard, he suffers the novel's most
gruesome demise -- that one wonders what the poor actor did to earn
''State of Fear'' is so over-the-top, in fact, that it wouldn't take
much to turn it into a satiric parable of a liberal coming to his
conservative senses. Take the scene where Kenner, Evans and Sarah
Jones, George Morton's plucky assistant, arm themselves to confront
the eco-terrorists: ''When was the last time you were on a range?''
Kenner asks Evans. ''Uh, it's been a while,'' answers Evans, whose
lack of military training and anti-gun politics instantly put his
manhood in doubt. ''In the passenger seat, Sarah looked at Peter. He
was good-looking, and he had the strong physique of an athlete. But
sometimes he behaved like such a wimp.''
Her suspicions aroused by Evans's metrosexual gunslinging, she presses
him further. ''You ever do any sports?'' she asks. Sure, he says.
''Squash. A little soccer.''
Wrong answer, blue boy.
''She was disappointed with him and not even sure why. Probably, she
thought, because she was nervous and wanted somebody competent to be
with her. She liked being around Kenner. He was so knowledgeable, so
skilled. He knew what was going on. He was quick to respond to any
situation. Whereas Peter was a nice guy, but. . . .''
But she'll be voting red this year. Sarah -- for some reason the
author refers to Peter Evans as Evans and John Kenner as Kenner, but
Sarah Jones, well, she's just Sarah -- functions as Crichton's own
Dame Commonsense. She sees through Ted Bradley's self-righteous
bluster: ''Sarah thought: Ted really is a fool. He has a severely
limited understanding of what he is talking about.'' She appreciates
the road clearance of a good gas-guzzler: ''The vehicle was bouncing
over the dirt road, but it was an S.U.V. and it rode high so Sarah
knew they would be all right.'' Thank God they didn't take Evans's
hybrid wimpmobile. Really -- the guy drives a Prius.
This might all be good if not screamingly clever fun -- but for the
footnotes. The annoying citations make it apparent that the author
desperately wants to be taken seriously on the global warming stuff.
That would be perfectly fine in a Weekly Standard cover story. In a
thriller, it's a little like having the author interrupt the story to
insist that Dr. Evil actually has a death ray. Crichton's proof is
itself laughably rigged. Kenner cites study after study but Drake, the
scheming NERF leader, is allowed no evidence. ''Just trust me, it's
happening,'' Drake says of global warming. ''Count on it.'' There are,
of course, thousands of scientific studies that raise disturbing
questions about climate change and the human role in its cause. To
claim that it's a hoax is every novelist's right. To criticize the
assumptions and research gaps in global warming theory is any
scientist's prerogative. Citing real studies to support the idea of a
hoax is ludicrous.
In case anybody misses his point, Crichton tacks a bibliography and
two ''author's message'' essays to the end of the book. In these the
author compares global warming to the early 20th-century belief in the
ridiculous theory of eugenics, and treats us to a bullet-point
presentation of his thoughts about science and the environment. One of
those thoughts bemoans the lack of ''rational'' and ''systematic''
research on wilderness preservation. For this sorry state of affairs,
he writes, ''I blame environmental organizations every bit as much as
developers and strip miners.'' Crichton thus leads his readers to one
of two possible conclusions: one, there exists a world yet unrevealed
in which strip miners wrestle with the issue of proper wilderness
management; or two, this fellow has completely lost all sense of
perspective. The evidence in ''State of Fear'' forces this reader to
embrace the latter.
Bruce Barcott is a contributing editor for Outside magazine.
First Chapter: 'State of Fear'
By MICHAEL CRICHTON
SUNDAY, MAY 2, 2004
In the darkness, he touched her arm and said, "Stay here." She did not
move, just waited. The smell of salt water was strong. She heard the
faint gurgle of water.
Then the lights came on, reflecting off the surface of a large open
tank, perhaps fifty meters long and twenty meters wide. It might have
been an indoor swimming pool, except for all the electronic equipment
that surrounded it.
And the very strange device at the far end of the pool.
Jonathan Marshall came back to her, grinning like an idiot. "Qu'estce
que tu penses?" he said, though he knew his pronunciation was
terrible. "What do you think?"
"It is magnificent," the girl said. When she spoke English, her accent
sounded exotic. In fact, everything about her was exotic, Jonathan
thought. With her dark skin, high cheekbones, and black hair, she
might have been a model. And she strutted like a model in her short
skirt and spike heels. She was half Vietnamese, and her name was
Marisa. "But no one else is here?" she said, looking around.
"No, no," he said. "It's Sunday. No one is coming."
Jonathan Marshall was twenty-four, a graduate student in physics from
London, working for the summer at the ultra-modern Laboratoire
Ondulatoire-the wave mechanics laboratory-of the French Marine
Institute in Vissy, just north of Paris. But the suburb was mostly the
residence of young families, and it had been a lonely summer for
Marshall. Which was why he could not believe his good fortune at
meeting this girl. This extraordinarily beautiful and sexy girl.
"Show me what it does, this machine," Marisa said. Her eyes were
shining. "Show me what it is you do."
"My pleasure," Marshall said. He moved to the large control panel and
began to switch on the pumps and sensors. The thirty panels of the
wave machine at the far end of the tank clicked, one after another.
He glanced back at her, and she smiled at him. "It is so complicated,"
she said. She came and stood beside him at the control panel. "Your
research is recorded on cameras?"
"Yes, we have cameras in the ceiling, and on the sides of the tank.
They make a visual record of the waves that are generated. We also
have pressure sensors in the tanks that record pressure parameters of
the passing wave."
"These cameras are on now?"
"No, no," he said. "We don't need them; we're not doing an
"Perhaps we are," she said, resting her hand on his shoulder. Her
fingers were long and delicate. She had beautiful fingers.
She watched for a minute, then said, "This room, everything is so
expensive. You must have great security, no?"
"Not really," he said. "Just cards to get in. And only one security
camera." He gestured over his shoulder. "That one back in the corner."
She turned to look. "And that is turned on?" she said.
"Oh yes," he said. "That's always on." She slid her hand to caress his
neck lightly. "So is someone watching us now?"
"Then we should behave."
"Probably. Anyway, what about your boyfriend?"
"Him." She gave a derisive snort. "I have had enough of him."
Earlier that day, Marshall had gone from his small apartment to the
café on rue Montaigne, the café he went to every morning, taking a
journal article with him to read as usual. Then this girl had sat down
at the next table, with her boyfriend. The couple had promptly fallen
into an argument.
In truth, Marshall felt that Marisa and the boyfriend didn't seem to
belong together. He was American, a beefy, red-faced fellow built like
a footballer, with longish hair and wire-frame glasses that did not
suit his thick features. He looked like a pig trying to appear
His name was Jim, and he was angry with Marisa, apparently because she
had spent the previous night away from him. "I don't know why you
won't tell me where you were," he kept repeating.
"It is none of your business, that's why."
"But I thought we were going to have dinner together."
"Jimmy, I told you we were not."
"No, you told me you were. And I was waiting at the hotel for you. All
"So? No one made you. You could go out. Enjoy yourself."
"But I was waiting for you."
"Jimmy, you do not own me." She was exasperated by him, sighing,
throwing up her hands, or slapping her bare knees. Her legs were
crossed, and the short skirt rode up high. "I do as I please."
"Yes," she said, and at that moment she turned to Marshall and said,
"What is that you are reading? It looks very complicated."
At first Marshall was alarmed. She was clearly talking to him to taunt
the boyfriend. He did not want to be drawn into the couple's dispute.
"It's physics," he said briefly, and turned slightly away. He tried to
ignore her beauty.
"What kind of physics?" she persisted.
"Wave mechanics. Ocean waves."
"So, you are a student?"
"Ah. And clearly intelligent. You are English? Why are you in France?"
And before he knew it, he was talking to her, and she introduced the
boyfriend, who gave Marshall a smirk and a limp handshake. It was
still very uncomfortable, but the girl behaved as if it were not.
"So you work around here? What sort of work? A tank with a machine?
Really, I can't imagine what you say. Will you show me?"
And now they were here, in the wave mechanics laboratory. And Jimmy,
the boyfriend, was sulking in the parking lot outside, smoking a
"What shall we do about Jimmy?" she said, standing beside Marshall
while he worked at the control panel.
"He can't smoke in here."
"I will see that he does not. But I don't want to make him more angry.
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