Denver Bar Association
June 2005
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Michael Crichton’s State of Fear

by Kevin Loughrey

I admire Greg Rawlings. He reviews books, movies and music for The Docket. The movies he loves, I’ve never seen. The bands he so admires, I’ve never heard of. He uses words like "oeuvre" so casually and correctly that it makes me embarrassed when I have to look them up in the dictionary (it means "body of work.") In short, Greg Rawlings is a real critic and I am not. Nonetheless, that gives me an opportunity to review a book that has some special interest to lawyers and one that Mr. Rawlings would never deign to read, let alone review — Michael Crichton’s State of Fear.

Let’s get the negative stuff over with first. Michael Crichton is not to be confused with Marcel Proust, somebody Greg Rawlings probably does like. Crichton is the medical student-turned-novelist who wrote Andromeda Strain, created ER, and wrote the mega-blockbuster, Jurassic Park. Crichton’s men are tall, handsome, athletic and smart. Come to think of it, Crichton’s women are tall, handsome, athletic and smart and, of course, strikingly beautiful. It is a rare Crichton heroine who can’t, if need be, knock out any man with a strong right uppercut. A long Crichton chapter is four pages and at that length, there will inevitably be a page break as though such a long comprehension span is taxing to the reader. Someone once suggested that the great novelist Stendhal spent an entire day crafting one perfect sentence. While the math implicit in that statement renders it somewhat suspect, the point is clear enough. On the other hand, one suspects that Michael Crichton could pump out about fifty pages of his next novel in the same amount of time.

So, why am I reading him? Well, I must confess, once you start reading Crichton, you tend to turn to the next page and so on. It may not be great literature, but it is often
compelling storytelling. State of Fear deals with an attempt
to create and exacerbate natural disasters so as to heighten the impact of a conference on
global warming. By now you probably can guess that Crichton doesn’t think much of the theory of global warming or the way it is reported in the press. Consequently, the plotters are rabid environmentalists and the heroes and heroines attempting to foil the plots are logical, practical, analytical and, of course, tall, handsome, athletic and smart. Therein lies the real reason I read the book. When is the last time an environmentalist was the bad guy in a piece of drama of any sort? Reading State of Fear is as surprising as reading a novel where the hero is a white, male, Christian businessman. Which, in fact, is close to the case. Anything that plays that much against the current type has to have some merit.

In addition, Crichton makes some interesting points for lawyers. He attempts to make his case by demonstrable, reported facts. Assertions such as "the icecaps are melting" are met with evidence that dispute the claim. He even invents a proposed lawsuit based on the destruction to be caused by the rising ocean levels and then "tries" the case in the book. Obviously, if you get to write the arguments for both sides, even an author whose closest relationship to law school is medical school can win the case — and win it he does. For the reader, the book demonstrates what we already knew — reporting on scientific issues leaves much to be desired. Even in the scientific press, Crichton asserts, facts take a back seat to pompous pronouncements and ad hominum attacks on opponents. I strongly suspect that after this work, Crichton will get to experience such attacks and his invitations to Hollywood parties will dwindle.

State of Fear is a popular novel with all the good and the bad that implies. If you are interested in the topic of global warming, or in the use and misuse of science, it is far better than that. If, like Greg Rawlings, you never watch Fox News, you should read this book. It is a point of view that will never make the pages of The New York Times. Recommendations don’t come any stronger than that.

Kevin Loughrey is the General Counsel of Thompson Creek Metals Company. He can be reached at (303) 783-6402 or kevinl@tcrk.com.


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