Micro by Michael Crichton

“Micro” was the final book that we could expect to be attributed to Michael Crichton.   I had found a remark somewhere during its release that indicated how Mr. Crichton had only written about a third of the book.  Presumably he’d fully plotted it though.

The concept – focusing on shrinking things down to ‘micro’ size -and the general story itself felt like vintage Crichton.  While there were a few ethical debate character moments early on that seemed like something Mr. Crichton might have written, in general, the descriptions and dialogue often felt ‘off.’

As the book opened, the presumed hero came too close to figuring out who had killed his hot-shot executive brother in Hawaii.  As a result, the story’s bad guy decided to get rid of the hero and his graduate student associates very quickly.  As I said, shrinking technology was central to the plot, although the science behind it was never explained very deeply. What explanation was given only lasted around 1.5 pages and involved magnetic fields, which didn’t make much sense to me.   That said, I was initially willing to let such a central plot point go as the one audience conceit that I’d willingly accept for the sake of the story.

Much of the early portion of the book centered around the aforementioned mysterious death of the hero’s brother.  Said brother disappeared within the first few pages and the hero spent much of the first portion of the book behaving as though he was starring in a sort poor man’s “CSI” episode.

I don’t often notice gaping plot holes, but there were a number of early missteps. In particular, the hero seemed to be rather dumb, which can never a good choice to make unless the writer had a really specific reason for doing so.  In this case, it just felt like a lazy way to get through having to deal with certain plot points.  For instance, the hero noticed something fishy in some of the evidence that was shown to him by the Hawaii police regarding his brother’s disappearance.

Inexplicably, he didn’t mention what he noticed to the police, despite having no reason to mistrust them. I wouldn’t have necessarily noticed that misstep, but it was actually referenced not once, but twice in the pages that followed, with the hero directly asking himself ‘Why didn’t I just tell the police?’  Why indeed – he never really answered his own self-questioning. Even after twice questioning the stupidity of not bringing his observation up to the police, he still did nothing.  All that he had to do was make a phone call and the ball could have gotten rolling.

Of course, such action might have ended the story much too soon.  Yet, a more-skilled writer would have simply added some reason for the hero not to trust his police contact.

Later, the hero decided to try to get the probable main bad guy to confess in front of some bystanders using illegally-gained evidence that he could have easily gotten legitimately if he’d simply called the police.  It was almost as though the writer knew that the plot problems were there – going so far as to have the hero admit to them – yet he didn’t try to fix them.  Weird.

The roughly 100 pages that it took before the story got into the ‘micro’ world was frustrating as well.  It was similar to “Jurassic Park” in that the reader knew that there was an island with dinosaurs coming, so it was in the interest of Mr. Crichton to not beat around the bush.  In “Micro,” the opening set-up goes on for at least 50 pages longer than needed before the promise of the concept began to be realized. When the ‘micro’ world elements finally kicked into gear, the pace and quality of the book greatly improved.  It was pretty obvious that the story was going to be very much in a “Jurassic Park” vein, with surprising threats frequently popping up and readers getting the chance to learn more about something they might not have previously considered.

Mr. Crichton’s appeal for me was always his dives into an interesting subject that I’d not previously considered diving into and the insect/micro world was very, very interesting. From that point onward, the writer also did some nice things to keep raising the stakes.  The addition of things like an interesting ‘vehicle’ and weapons, along with some mercenary human threats helped keep things lively.  The fact that some unknown insect threat always seemed to be looming also kept the story moving along.

The major flaw of the book that emerged by the end though was that none of the characters had grown to be particularly likable and I didn’t warm to their personalities as time went on.  The eight or so graduate students who were the ‘good guys’ were not people I’d have ever wanted to hang out with. They were all hyper-competitive, overly-touchy, whiny, Ph.D-candidate types.  I’ve known such folks in person and most were annoying, with a few exceptions.  The characters in “Micro” were all cast from the annoying variety.  I can’t say that I shed many tears as they dropped like flies.

Further, it was pretty obvious who was set to die next at any given point.  One needed only take a moment to consider who the least-developed character left standing happened to be. There was one twist at around page 250 that was probably meant to be the ‘shocking end of Act II.’  While it was a surprise, it was in the vein of the author warning the reader that:  “I’m willing to kill off anyone.”  [Somewhat spoiler]  A major character whom readers would assume to be one of, if not the main, hero died.  Shocking and tragic, if not for the fact that I didn’t really care about him, even though he was the ‘hero.’

The dialogue was mostly-serviceable, but I did chuckle from time to time at the dialogue of the bad guys – particularly the main bad guy.  He showed his true colors early in the story and acted in a hilariously cartoony manner after his guilt was revealed. He was not necessarily dumb, but some of his scene-concluding lines were pretty amusing, in that I expected to hear him say ‘Maniacal laugh, maniacal laugh’ after issuing them or twirl a mustache.

As the story wound down, the writer only marginally capitalized on the concept of the characters having abilities akin to super-powers in the micro-world.  The logic for such ‘powers’ had to do with their small size making them proportionately super strong or able to survive great falls. Despite coming in handy at times, those abilities were never really capitalized on to the great extent that I thought they would be. Another frequent quirk of the writer was the explanation of odd character actions after-the-fact.

One of the student characters made an incredibly bad decision late in the story, with it soon after being explained that he was only trying to be cunning. Essentially, the character had a plan to blackmail the big bad guy and it backfired on him. It wasn’t a bad explanation, but such a traitorous plan should have been set up earlier. As it was, the reader was left for a few pages wondering why the character would act so irrationally dumb. Also, a romance developed throughout the book that wasn’t overly believable. Yes, it certainly could have happen, but the characters involved simply didn’t seem like any plausible chemistry could exist between them. In the end, “Micro” does improve, despite hitting a couple of additional rough spots on the way to the end.

Like Mr. Crichton’s prior posthumous novel “Pirate Latitudes,” it felt like a good rough draft. Granted, “Micro” was much more developed and ‘meatier’ than “Pirate Latitudes,” but some of the meat – which I suspect that Mr. Preston was responsible for providing –  simply wasn’t very good. I’d rank the book a solid 3 out of 5 stars. It was weaker than most of the Mr. Crichton-related books that I’ve ever read, but it wasn’t awful nor a total waste of time. There was a lot of potential in the story and it could make for an interesting film if properly re-written. That “Micro” did fall short made me miss Mr. Crichton even more.  As much as I loved his books, I didn’t necessarily appreciate what kind of a writing talent he really was while he was still alive.  If  Richard Preston’s writing was any indication, there appeared to be a steep drop-off from Mr. Crichton to the next tier down in the ‘techno-thriller’ genre.

 


Crichton, Michael. Jurassic Park. Ballantine Books, 1991. Print. —. Pirate Latitudes. Harper, 2009. Print. Crichton, Michael, and Richard Preston. Micro. First ed. Harper, 2011. Print.

 

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