Saturday, February 11, 2012

Micro by Michael Crichton ****

Over the years, I've always felt the Michael Crichton was and wanted to be a science fiction author. In his final novel, finished posthumously by Richard Preston, the question is put to bed with a resounding, "Yes, hell yes." Micro is the adventure of seven Harvard graduate student getting down and dirty with the teeming life of the rain forest. Plants and animals armed and dangerous with myriad weapons. The best of evolution battles it out on the forest floor, some with mandibles and pincers, but most with chemical weapons used to entrap, to kill, and to digest. Of course, the most dangerous threat to our students is a full-size homo sapiens sapiens - sub species: mad scientist.

WARNING: To enjoy this book, you have to accept a "Honey I Shrunk the Kids" shrinking ray that reduces the graduate students and anything else (e.g. shelters, food, weapons, vehicles, etc.) by a couple of orders of magnitude leaving them completely functional.

The science of life on the floor of a rain forest is fascinating and the story of millimeter-sized graduate students versus the evil mad scientist is pretty good, but Michael Crichton's thriller magic is missing. Even though the body count is high, characters drop like fly (my apologies for that one), and the majority of all characters die by the end, the suspense is low. Why? First the characters are not very interesting, and second they die suddenly and predictably with the emphasis postmortem gore.

As a science fiction story, the narrative falls into the #1 SF trap, almost inevitable with seven competitive graduate student suddenly shrunk and dropped in the rain forest. The dialogue is seemingly a endless stream of these graduate students showing off to each other how smart they are, how much they know about rain forest ecology, evolution, and biochemistry, occasionally augmented with their favorite theories and personal scientific musings. Realistic? Yes. Boring? Like a textbook.

This book is more likely to end up on a science reading list, that anyone's best books list. But it is the great master's last effort, and all his fans should certainly read it.

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