I have never read anything by Michael Crichton, who passed away in 2008, but his books are on my to read list, so I can’t properly determine if this writing style is his, or Richard Preston’s. Preston was selected to finish the novel after Crichton passed, because he was a good chunk into the novel, but it wasn’t finished.
So herein lies the problem. The IDEA is awesome (a little “honey I shrunk the kids” but that can be forgiven), the science is interesting …the execution …not quite so good.
It starts strong with a private investigator, Marcos Rodriguez sneaking into a warehouse to find any dirt on a company called Nanigen. Cuts appear on his skin and he bails. When he meets up with Willy Fong, the lawyer who hired him, they end up slashed to death by something they can’t see. That has me intrigued. What is this Nanigen and what the hell happened!?
Skip to a laboratory full of poorly written students. They are all studying independent biological projects. Spiders, plants, beetles, etc. Nanigen deals with plants and chemicals, so the tie in makes sense. The students are drawn to Nanigen by one of the caricatures brother, Eric Jansen, because the company is looking for brilliant new minds.
The night before they leave, Eric’s younger, Peter gets a call saying his brother went missing. All very interesting! Don’t get me wrong, but this was when I started to notice the writing slipping. Peter had an entire conversation with the Lieutenant in charge of his brothers case and every comment was ended with “Peter said.” No, “Peter demanded” or “Peter asked”, he blandly said every sentence when discussing his brothers death. He doesn’t get any more interesting. Peter is the blandest character I have ever read. Everyone would remark how Peter got along with everyone, but I think that’s because he has no personality to contradict anyone.
And that lead me to my number one issue with the book. All the characters felt like caricatures and stereotypes. Peter: the leader with no personality, Rick: the asshole, Karen: the Asian martial-artist (who is also a strong-woman trope, meaning she is basically written as a man with boobs), Erika: the over-seas student who sleeps with everyone, Amir: the vegan, and Jenny: the character to balance out the male to female ratio. And then they threw in a non-biology student who was studying the other students, and clearly meant to be the one to create tension.
I was so excited to start this book, and granted, I did enjoy it. But I’m enjoying it for the science behind it. You get to see the world through the eyes of a human half an inch tall. Bugs are huge and threatening, the ground crawls with microbes and critters we can’t see as full sized humans. Things we see as commonplace or an irritant, are suddenly the size of a transport truck and life threatening. That is what carried me through the story. It started as one brother trying to deal with the “death” of another brother, and ended up with the students shrunk and trying everything possible to stay alive.
The “evil” character orchestrating everything was more like a cartoon villain than a corporate billionaire at the head of a revolutionary company. The characters were one dimensional and every bad thing that happened didn’t register as more than a few extra words on the page. I flat out didn’t care about any of them. I really didn’t.
Because I have never read any of his other books, I can’t tell if it’s a regular thing for Crichton books to be science heavy and character-weak, or if it was Preston so I may not be so quick to pick up his other books, but that’s not to say that I won’t.