Like many readers, I came to Michael Crichton through Jurassic Park, although I read the book well before I saw the movie. His books are good, fun reads, the epitome of the techno-thriller. But some of his later ones, especially Next and Prey, sometimes felt to me a little like J-Park-lite clones written by other authors trying to emulate Crichton.
Micro, Crichton's last novel - posthumously finished by Richard Preston (writer of The Hot Zone and brother of Douglas Preston) - started off feeling very similar, as it perfunctorily introduced a group of characters who had a mixture of skills that would undoubtedly turn out to be useful as the plot played out. Shrunk to tiny size (about 1-inch high) it seemed clear they'd fight some bugs and avoid being stepped on to re-enlarge themselves 300 pages later, with a bit of a don't mess with nature you don't understand message.
As I read, I started feeling uninvolved. Cardboard characters doing dumb things don't do a lot for me.
And then he (or they) surprised me.
I went in expecting a thriller, assuming one or two minor characters would be killed off to build the threat, then we'd see the others bravely fight it through to escape at the end.
But then he (I'm going to stop with the "they" on the assumption Crichton did most of the plotting) killed off a few more characters, including some I figured would live.
I then realised I was reading not a thriller, but a horror, where the key question wasn't which characters will die? but which characters will live?
In the back of my mind, I wondered if a terminally ill author might even write out his fears and create a depressing ending where nobody survived.
That ratcheted up the tension!
Add to that some seriously creepy deaths at the hand of giant bugs (technically, the bugs were normal size and the people were small) and I became more involved in the fate of the characters, and somewhat grossed out to learn about the digestive systems of insects.
Micro is certainly not Crichton's best, not up there with the great JP, but it's better than some of his recent stuff, and got me re-energized about reading him again.
Too bad it's the last one. 1
- 1. I hope the above statement is right. I've got no problem with finishing an uncompleted draft, but lose interest in books that are based on an idea/concept/outline sentence by a big name author but are basically written by an unknown trying to copy the big guy's style and draw in his audience. I hope Crichton's estate leaves good enough (and in some of his books, great enough), alone and can survive on e.r. royalties from now on.