Onyx reviews: State of Fear by Michael
State of Fear is a heavy novel, both literally and figuratively. It
feels dense in the hand, heavier than its 600 pages should account for. A quick
scan through its pages reveals graphs of environmental information and footnotes
packed with references to scientific journals. The book contains two appendices
followed by a multi-page bibliography.
It's heavy, but it's also heavy handed. Crichton has an agenda: to speak out
against the way America has been living in an artificial state of fear for the
last century. He argues that governments prefer it when the populace is afraid
of something; it's easier to govern. He notes that concerns about a global
warming catastrophe started shortly after the Berlin Wall came down, ending the
cold war threat. Through his characters, he presents a compelling-albeit
one-sided-argument against the fundamental assumption that the planet is facing
a series of environmental disasters.
His viewpoint character is Peter Evans, attorney to George Morton, a
philanthropist who funds many environmental organizations. Morton is financing a
lawsuit against the EPA in which the claimants argue that the agency's failure
to take global warming seriously has led to a crisis in Vanutu, a Pacific island
which may be obliterated by rising ocean levels.
Peter is dispatched to monitor preparations for the lawsuit. Almost
immediately his strongly held beliefs in global warming as conventional wisdom
are tested. The claimants know that the defense will present scientific evidence
against the theory, so they use Peter as a guinea pig to see how potential
jurors might react. Peter's response is to become defensive. Everyone knows the
planet is getting warmer because carbon dioxide emissions are rising. It doesn't
matter that the average temperatures in many places around the globe have
decreased in recent decades.
A fringe group is planning to orchestrate several environmental catastrophes
to help raise funding for the lawsuit by validating public fears about global
warming. Though he's the viewpoint character-and it takes a while for this to
become apparent-Peter isn't the books catalyst, which is a problem. He's the
target for Crichton's arguments, but he doesn't drive the book's action.
Instead, he's dragged around the globe by Morton's allies, who know everything
there is to know about everything. Their attempts to thwart the catastrophes
don't rely on Peter--he's just there so they can explain their point of view to
the reader through him.
As a novel, State of Fear is not a success. It relies on trite
characterization, contrived plotting, a passive protagonist and awkward writing.
However, as a cautionary tale against conventional wisdom, Crichton raises
several valid questions. While readers may not agree with his conclusions on
this specific subject, they will likely go through the same evolution that Peter
does. By late in the book, he's no longer so certain of his beliefs, or of his
sources of information. If Crichton manages to make people skeptical about media
reports of scientific information, that alone makes the novel worth reading.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2007. All rights reserved.