I don’t usually have high hopes for action thrillers by white male authors. They’re bound to involve super-efficient macho male protagonists, female leads whose greatest selling point is their attractiveness to the male leads, and the a plot that is basically all over the place. But, you know, you don’t usually care because your flight is late by three hours and you need to kill time.
I picked up State of Fear because I was chilling at my aunt’s place and my phone was low on charge. I’d very wisely left my charger at my friend’s place, so there wasn’t anything else I could do except read. And the collection my uncle had left behind was mainly a bunch of atheist propaganda and also action thrillers by white males. *Snore*
As I had recently had someone praise The Lost World to me, I decided to give Michael Crichton a try. (I outgrew Jackie Collins by the time I was 13.)
The book wasn’t even engaging enough to prompt me to ask my aunt whether I could borrow it. And yet, today, after I was back in Bangalore, I found myself wondering what happened with the rest of that godawful plot. (These books are like popcorn – you know it’s rubbish, but you still have to finish the tub.)
I finished the book in one sitting today, skipping pages at random every time I couldn’t remember where I’d left off – not that it matters to your understanding of the plot. And I found the writing to be… hackneyed. Lame. Painful. Cringeworthy.
Protagonist Peter Evans, a lawyer, is different from your average action hero in that he’s a non-confrontational wimp. He prefers women like gym instructor Janis, who has a great body and a voice you can just tune out (his words, not mine). Co-Protagonist Kenner, a secret agent of sorts, is always doing badass things in the background while Evans engages in extended hand wringing, and wanders around, hopelessly lost in the plot. Side-Protagonist and Main Female Protagonist Sarah Jones is an assistant who’s been having a tempestuous relationship with some random actor – that’s all we’re expected to want to know about her. She’s also blonde and tall and gorgeous. Duh. While flying from one dangerous situation to the next, she frets over the fact that wimp turned newly badass Peter Evans likes dark haired lawyer Jennifer Haynes more than he does her. Oh, and Peter Evans is no longer a wimp halfway through the book due to a near death incident that involved a crevasse in the Antarctic. Something “shifts” in him – and he feels as though he is 10 metres away from where he started, both physically and mentally.
There’s also a token Asian dude with a mysterious background and military and hacking skills, as well as a token loud arrogant dude whose sole purpose is to be eaten by tribals.
The book deals with eco-terrorism, ELF, and the question of whether global warming is real. It reads like a movie at times – one sequence at the end involves Evans dozing off and hearing Kenner give a legit righteous lecture on how climate change is inevitable and natural and good for the Earth and how humans cannot expect to control it at all. The whole thing would actually work as a voiceover, but I just scrolled down until it was done. There seems to be quite a lot of ideology pushing – not necessarily a bad concept, but there is such a thing as taking it too far. Crichton writes with all the subtlety of a giant hammer – we know Evans likes Jennifer because he thinks it, and then he suddenly likes Sarah, and we know that too because he thinks that as well. The plot could actually have been well written, if only some thought had been given to it, but nobody publishes one book a year that way. (Except Rick Riordan).
What is it about action thrillers these days? There are no plot twists anymore – if a dude mysteriously disappears at the beginning of the book and then seems to be orchestrating events from beyond the grave, then he’s not actually dead. Similarly, there will always be the woman that the protagonist sleeps with right away, as well as the one that he sort of ignores, whom he eventually ends up with. All of the misogyny in your book is automatically cancelled out by handing your cardboard cutout female characters guns and having them kill all the bad guys while the wimpy protagonist wrings his hands. Oh, and if someone describes a very unique and dangerous way to most surely die, you can take it for granted that the characters are going to almost die that way within the next few pages, and pull off a miraculous escape. There are no less than four miraculous escapes in this book – crevasse, weaponized lightning strikes, SUV goes over a waterfall in a flashflood, and honest-to-goodness tsunami.
Patterson, Child, Crichton, Ludlum… The success of their early books have meant that these guys are now expected to churn out a different book every year. The quality of all their books is absolute rubbish, but why have fleshed out characters and interesting plotlines when you can just change names and tell the same damn story a hundred and fifty times? As a former fan of the action genre (i.e. until I read more than five books and realized they were all the same), I really do wish they’d take a page out of the fantasy genre’s books and put some more thought into it.