"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 89
"Who wants to volunteer to write our last post?"
A few days ago, I thought about scrapping my "plan in the sand" for State of Fear: after all, Ash Wednesday is looming and I'm feeling too lazy (not to mention unqualified) to write one more book club post just for the author's note, appendices and bibliography. And I did go ahead and read the rest of the book as if I'd be cramming it all into one more meeting. But sand is stronger than I thought. Here's hoping that I can
One last note before the jump: if my impressions are correct, then exactly one commenter has already read State of Fear and exactly one other is reading along but not commenting along. That's totally okay with me, but now I have to warn all the other lovely souls who are joining the discussion that this meeting will go into some really big spoilers.
I feel bad that I made a joke about Ted Bradley getting eaten. Of course I didn't actually want it to happen. =(
Michael Crichton isn't the most emotionally evocative writer I've read, but boy, can he milk a death scene. I was quite disturbed by Jonathan Marshall's death at the very beginning. The young man's only flaw was being a lonely nerd who let a beautiful and seductive woman take advantage of him for one heady evening. It's not very smart, but it's hardly deserving of death. And is there a rule that the safest ways to kill someone are also the worst ways to die? After reading of his murder, I wanted to go to the Seine and lay some flowers on the stone embankment.
Bradley's death is far more tragic, in the sense that he gets his big moment of anagnorisis. Those who live by "nature" will die by "nature"--a thought which evokes everything from the high romance of Percy Shelley's shipwreck to the bathos of Timothy Treadwell's bear attack, but for the most part, not the reality which Italian Horror got absolutely right.
"You just don't get it, do you?" Kenner said. "You think that civilisation is some horrible, polluting human invention that separates us from the state of nature. But civilisation doesn't separate us from nature, Ted. Civilisation protects us from nature. Because what you see right now, all around you--this is nature."
Well, why shouldn't human nature be as savage and merciless as Mother Nature, the original single mother? One day I'll give those Philippine-set Italian cannibale films the same fair shot I gave the Philippine-set American martial arts movies.
More dignified is the death of the villain "Bolden." Although it can't be very pleasant to be crushed into nothingness under a concentrated beam of sound, he died in a fair fight. Indeed, his opponent was someone who made the decent, if also rash choice to give him a warning instead of just clubbing him in the back of the head. (You're all right, Evans.)
The bright spot among all these deaths is a resurrection of sorts. I'm sure none of Crichton's readers really believed George Morton was dead, but I had forgotten about him by the time he finally shows up again. Which meant that I had the same reaction to him that Evans does: pure relief. (Nice one, Crichton!) On the other hand, I can't really wrap my head around how easily Morton turns into Rambo--and I had to reread earlier scenes in order to see whether I had just been picking up the wrong impressions of him.
At the start of the novel, Morton is a sixty-five-year-old billionaire philanthropist who might have been blissfully happy to bankroll the snake Nicholas Drake forever, had John Kenner not directly intervened. And although Morton likes visiting the sites of all the far-flung environmental projects he is financing, he needs his hosts to provide pretty girls as guides before he can really feel comfortable. So it's kind of difficult for me to believe he survives nine days in the jungles of Gareda, staying one step ahead of a crazy tribe of cannibals, before he needs to pull off the big rescue at the end. Perhaps he picked up some of Kenner's military training by osmosis. =P
Even Morton's big moment at the end, when he describes the new kind of environmental organisation he wants to found, had me asking, "Was he always this smart?" Crichton had to study environmental science for three years before he could write State of Fear; Morton has had a couple of weeks. It must be that osmosis thing again--maybe coupled with his own rite of passage, implied but not included in the narrative. A more detailed book club discussion would look at all Morton's plans (which are also Crichton's recommendations), but I'd like to focus on
"Face the facts, all these environmental organisations are thirty, forty, fifty years old. They have big buildings, big obligations, big staffs. They may trade on their youthful dreams, but the truth is, they're now part of the establishment. And the establishment works to preserve the status quo. It just does.
". . . your final job [for the organisation] will be to disband it, before it becomes another tired old environmental organisation spouting outmoded wisdom, and doing more harm than good."
"I see," Evans said. "And when it's disbanded?"
"You'll find a bright young person and try to excite him or her to do what really needs to be done in the next generation."
That's probably the most radical idea of all! And I have to admit that it makes sense to me. As Morton also explains, when your team solves the problem it was formed to deal with, then it loses its reason for being. If I remember correctly, Michael J. Fox said something similar about his foundation for Parkinson's research: it exists to put itself out of business. Likewise, I have long believed that when a religious order tries to stay "relevant" by diverting from its founder's original charism, the Holy Spirit moves out. (That's actually not a non sequitur.)
Since State of Fear is a novel, it's best to end our discussion of the story with a last look at our unlikely protagonist. To me, the most interesting thing is the other main characters' decision to keep Evans entirely in the dark about what they are doing, even if it requires him to mourn a dear friend who isn't actually dead. I think he takes the big news well. (I would have been throwing things and yelling, "I had fifteen Masses said for your soul! You owe me for stipends!") This reminds me a lot of some YA novels in which the heroines are played like pawns by characters who don't let them in on the bigger plot, because the heroines are actually the queens. (There is your non sequitur!) Evans begins as a pawn and ends as a . . . promoted pawn. A knight of sorts. =)
1) What do you think Sarah said to Evans to make him forgive them? (And can you believe that Crichton didn't give this moment a proper scene???) What would it take to make you forgive your friends if they did the same thing to you?
2) Do organisations that are "built to last" simply fob off one generation's problems onto the next?
3) What kind of relationship should civilisation have with nature?
4) Did Crichton go too far with the cannibals or were they just what the story needed?