Hawaii, present day. Seven doctoral students are approached by Nanigen, a high-tech company offering huge salaries and career opportunities. They agree to travel to the company’s Hawaii HQ. Nanigen’s business is in developing chemicals and pharmaceuticals from the natural world and they have devised a unique method of accessing new compounds; by using miniaturising technology to gather samples from nature. The students stumble into a corporate crisis; murders are commissioned and the students find themselves miniaturised and lost in the Hawaii rainforest. They have to find their way back to Nanigen HQ, stop corporate baddie Drake, all the while evading both the animal, insect and plant dangers, miniature killer robots and Nanigen’s hit-squads.
Crichton plots often feature two parallel concerns; the technology-oriented thriller element, usually a riff on the Frankenstein notion of not meddling with science that’s not fully understood, and a conservative cultural/political idea being explored alongside. In Rising Sun, for example, Crichton’s fears are surveillance technology and Japanese business overtaking US interests; in Disclosure, it’s computers and assertive women respectively; in Jurassic Park it’s genetic engineering and chaos theory; in State of Fear (an unintentionally funny steal from the early 80s nuclear terrorist paranoia flick Who Dares Wins) the worry is leftie climate change do-gooders. Here, it’s poststructuralism. One of the students is writing on scientific discourse and is along to snark and be snarked at as he misapplies a range of literary and cultural studies ideas. It’s an odd thing indeed.
For once, Crichton, usually solid on his science-based fictions (we get a non-fiction introduction and an eight page bibliography grounding the story in some kind of evidence base) the miniaturising tech is somewhat fudged (it involves magnets); but Crichton is more concerned with rushing us along to the forest floor where our dwindling band of students can be picked off one by one in an extended Act Two which splices any number of jungle-set body count movies such as Southern Comfort or Predator and something approaching the homely wonder of Honey I Shrunk The Kids. We tick off spiders, wasps, birds, ants and so on before bumping into a Ben Gunn-ish marooned miniature person with a handy tiny warehouse of useful things.
Narrative complexity or political subtlety isn’t Crichton’s strong suit here (in fairness, Micro is the second of two novels published posthumously; this was finished by The Hot Zone author Richard Preston) and though the tiny-people action is mostly fun, because it’s being played straight-faced as potential science it’s much less convincing than if it was done on the level of science fantasy. The sneering attitude on display at times doesn’t help either.
Crichton, Michael and Richard Preston. 2012. Micro (London: Harper), 541 pages, 978-0007350001