Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston
HarperCollins, November 2011
Hardcover, 429 pages
HarperCollins, November 2011
Hardcover, 429 pages
In a locked Honolulu office building, three men are found dead with no sign of struggle except for the ultrafine, razor-sharp cuts covering their bodies. The only clue left behind is a tiny bladed robot, nearly invisible to the human eye.
In the lush forests of Oahu, groundbreaking technology has ushered in a revolutionary era of biological prospecting. Trillions of microorganisms, tens of thousands of bacteria species, are being discovered; they are feeding a search for priceless drugs and applications on a scale beyond anything previously imagined.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, seven graduate students at the forefront of their fields are recruited by a pioneering microbiology start-up. Nanigen MicroTechnologies dispatches the group to a mysterious lab in Hawaii, where they are promised access to tools that will open a whole new scientific frontier.
But once in the Oahu rain forest, the scientists are thrust into a hostile wilderness that reveals profound and surprising dangers at every turn. Armed only with their knowledge of the natural world, they find themselves prey to a technology of radical and unbridled power. To survive, they must harness the inherent forces of nature itself.
An instant classic, Micro pits nature against technology in vintage Crichton fashion. Completed by visionary science writer Richard Preston, this boundary-pushing thriller melds scientific fact with pulse-pounding fiction to create yet another masterpiece of sophisticated, cutting-edge entertainment.
Micro was being written by Michael Crichton at the time of his death in 2008. Richard Preston (The Hot Zone, The Cobra Event, The Wild Trees) was chosen by Crichton's estate to finish the novel. Micro begins with the mysterious death of three men. The deaths occurred after one of them had secretly investigated the high tech company Nanigen. Then it moves on to the main characters, a group of microbiology grad students who are being recruited for research by Nanigen. The group is invited to visit the company's research facilities in Hawaii.
Nanigen's owner turns out to be a deranged killer who uses the technology to shrink the grad students to 1/2 an inch tall. The grad students end up out in the wilds of Hawaii, trying to survive what is found in nature - things such as ants, wasps, centipedes, spiders, birds, and bats to name a few. All of the students are experts in some area that could potentially help them survive.
In the Introduction it becomes clear what Crichton was thinking when he started writing Micro. He pointed out that "...David Attenborough expressed concern that modern schoolchildren could not identify common plants and insects found in nature, although previous generations identified them without hesitation. Modern children, it seemed, were cut off from the experience of nature, and from play in the natural world." Additionally, he wrote that a lesson we all need to learn is that "the natural world, with all its elements and interconnections, represents a complex system and therefore we cannot understand it and can not predict its behavior. It is delusional to behave as if we can...."
The natural world can be full of violence. "What is it about nature that is so terrifying to the modern mind? Why is it so intolerable? Because nature is fundamentally indifferent. It's unforgiving, uninterested. If you live or die, succeed or fail, feel pleasure or pain, it doesn't care. That's intolerable to us. How can we live in a world so indifferent to us. So we redefined nature. We call it Mother Nature when it's not a parent in any real sense of the term. (pg. 126)"
Micro is a fast-paced adventure that will give many readers pleasure. The story was, at times, scary, silly, and suspenseful. It did bring Fantastic Voyage to mind, as well as a "nature of tooth and claw" version of Honey I shrunk the Kids, Gulliver's Travels, The Borrowers, and all the other books and movies featuring very small people. If you think about it, this really is a well-traveled theme, but that didn't make it any less enjoyable. It's a well explored theme for a reason. It's .
A case could easily be made that the characters were all one dimensional caricatures and not well developed. I can not criticize Preston's work on Micro because, to his credit, you simply can't tell what parts he wrote, but I also have a feeling that if Crichton had finished writing this novel, he might have fleshed out all the characters more, including the students, villains, and the Honolulu homicide detective, and worked on the plot.
In order to enjoy Micro, the reader needs to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the adventure. This would make a great movie. (I also appreciated the inclusion of a bibliography which I have to think was part of Preston's contribution.)
Highly recommended because it does have a few flaws, but honestly, I would say it was
very highly recommended when considering the pure enjoyment and escapism it provided.
In 2008, the famous naturalist David Attenborough expressed concern that modern schoolchildren could not identify common plants and insects found in nature, although previous generations identified them without hesitation. Modern children, it seemed, were cut off from the experience of nature, and from play in the natural world. Introduction, pg. XI
Perhaps the single most important lesson to be learned by direct experience is that the natural world, with all its elements and interconnections, represents a complex system and therefore we cannot understand it and can not predict its behavior. It is delusional to behave as if we can.... Introduction, pg. XII
From her he had learned that Nanigen was forty thousand square feet of labs and high-tech facilities, where she said they did advanced work in robotics. What kind of advanced work, she wasn’t sure, except the robots were extremely small. "They do some kind of research on chemicals and plants," she said vaguely.
"You need robots for that?"
"They do, yes." She shrugged.
But she also told him the building itself had no security: no alarm system, no motion detectors, no guards, cameras, laser beams. "Then what do you use?" he asked her. "Dogs?"
The receptionist shook her head. "Nothing," she said. "Just a lock on the front door. They say they don’t need any security."
At the time, Rodriguez suspected strongly that Nanigen was a scam or a tax dodge. No high-technology company would house itself in a dusty warehouse, far from downtown Honolulu and the university, from which all high-tech companies drew. If Nanigen was way out here, they must have something to hide. pg. 4
Rodriguez crouched down to look more closely, and as he peered at the hexagons below, he saw a drop of blood spatter on the floor. Then another drop. Rodriguez stared curiously, before he thought to put his hand to his forehead. He was bleeding, just above his right eyebrow.
He’d been cut, somehow. He hadn’t felt anything but there was blood on his gloved hand, and blood still dripping from his eyebrow. He stood. The blood was dripping onto his cheek, and chin, and onto the uniform. He put his hand to his forehead and hurried into the nearest lab, looking for a Kleenex or a cloth. He found a box of tissues, and stepped to a washbasin with a small mirror over it. He dabbed at his face. The bleeding had already begun to stop; the cut was small but razor-sharp; he didn’t see how it had happened but paper cuts could look like that. pg. 7
"No," Dan Watanabe answered. "There wasn’t any blood in the bathroom. Means nobody went in there after the cutting started. So we got three dead guys slashed to death in a locked room. No motive, no weapon, no nothing." pg. 10
"Anybody doing good work in the fields that we're interested in," Vin Drake said to the students clustered around him. "Microbiology, entomology, chemical ecology, ethnobotany, phytopathology - in other words, all research into the natural world at the micro- or nano-level. That's what we're after, and we're hiring now. pg. 17
"But listen: if you talk to your brother, ask him why drug companies put up so much money for micro-botics, okay?" pg. 30
Peter said little on the drive back. He wasn't inclined to talk, and the detective didn't press him. It was true the images of his brother vanishing in the surf were disturbing. But not as disturbing as the woman on the hill, the woman in white pointing at the boat with some object in her hand. Because that woman was Alyson Bender, the CFO of Nanigen, and her presence at the scene changed everything. pg. 48
What is it about nature that is so terrifying to the modern mind? Why is it so intolerable? Because nature is fundamentally indifferent. It's unforgiving, uninterested. If you live or die, succeed or fail, feel pleasure or pain, it doesn't care. That's intolerable to us. How can we live in a world so indifferent to us. So we redefined nature. We call it Mother Nature when it's not a parent in any real sense of the term. pg. 126