Category Archives: Michael Crichton
Rating: 3.5 WaterTowers
“Pirate Latitudes” was found as a complete manuscript after Michael Crichton’s death in 2008.
I have read a lot of bad reviews of “Pirate Latitudes” and, foolishly, let those reviews stand in the way of my reading it in a timely manner.
“Pirate Latitudes” is a terrific read!
A linear story where the main character, Captain Charles Hunter, puts a lethal crew together, sails the Caribbean chasing treasure, fights and kills to grab that treasure, then sails the Caribbean again meeting up with monsters, cannibals, and Spanish warships.
Lots of boozing, womanizing, cheating, killing.
Hey….they are pirates (or “privateers”) based out of Port Royal, Jamaica. They do what pirates (at least the romanticized version of pirates) do…..arrrrghh.
I love pirate stories, and this one is every bit as good as…..well, hmmmmm….the “Pirates of the Carribean” movies.
Those other reviewers need to chill out and enjoy….
I was just looking at CNN when the headline came up that Michael Crichton has passed away. I’ll get a link and put it here in a bit. (I’m hoping the news is wrong.)
A very sad day for readers. Mr. Crichton was one of the best….he will be greatly missed.
Here are the Reviews I have written so far from Michael Crichton.
Rating: 3.5 Water Towers
Reality meets fiction. I was watching KCRA-TV this past Friday morning when they aired a segment featuring genetically altered cats that glowed in the dark (fluorescent).
Here is a CNN segment covering the same, very disturbing, story:
Two basic, and very scary, questions raised are:
- Who owns your cells?
- Can we genetically produce mixed human-other species individuals?
“Next” takes us on a winding path involving multiple characters and situations. As you read this it would be wise to take note of the characters. There are many, some with the same name, and it can get confusing. To that end, I will not unravel the mystery, just be aware that the many pieces come together at the end, and very nicely.
In the story, BioGen Lab has claimed ownership of the “Burnet line” of genes. Several years ago, Frank Burnet came down with T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia (cancer of the bone marrow). Dr. Michael Gross at UCLA Medical Center, was a specialist in this disease and treated /tested Frank every six months over a period of several years. Over time, Frank recovered (on his own) and also became suspicious as more and more forms needed to be signed. At one point Frank refused to sign, and the treatment/testing stopped.
As we find out, Dr. Gross was selling Franks cells to a drug company BioGen.
The estimated worth of Frank’s cells is $3 Billion. No drug has come out of the Burnet line, but, several advancements have been made, not counting the money.
In parallel stories, we meet several transgenic individuals. A talking orangutan, a talking grey parrot named Gerard, and a very human chimpanzee, Dave. We also meet genetic researchers who propose to genetically alter nature to carry brand names. For example, all jaguars can have Jaguar, the car manufacturer’s logo, genetically altered to appear on their bodies. Fish can carry logos of, for example, Mike’s Fishhouse. There have been experiments on turtles where their shells glowed in the dark with what looks like a corporate logo. All of this was fiction to me…..until last week.
The events in “Next” happen at breakneck speed and collide at the end.
Dave’s human father, researcher Henry Kendall, kidnaps Dave from the research facility where he was living (and scheduled to be put to sleep). Henry and his wife, Lynn, “adopt” Dave and formulate a fake disease to explain Dave’s abnormal appearance which Lynn plants in the Internet as support. Dave attends school with Jamie, the Kendalls other son. This experience is not without major problems as children make fun of Dave, and, try to beat up Jamie. Dave is not one to shy away from a fight while protecting Jamie. Dave is very strong and athletic.
Gerard, escapes from danger several times (remember he is pretty smart, even helping his owner’s son with his math homework) and ends up flying to a San Diego Spa perching next to a normal parrot and eating his fill of orange slices.
The BioGen line of Burnet cells is contaminated and thus destroyed. This leads BioGen to seek more cells. But Frank has disappeared, so the only source of cells (that BioGen claims they own) belong to Frank’s lawyer daughter, Alex, or her son, Jamie (yes, another Jamie). BioGen hires a bounty hunter, Vasco Borden, to get either Alex or her Jamie’s cells via a forced biopsy.
The chase to get Alex, or her son’s cells, ends up in San Diego with all the participants coming together at the San Diego Spa. Very cool ending. All my questions during the book where answered. For example: Why are there two Jamie’s? What happens to Gerard and Dave? What happened to the orangutan? Did cavemen really prefer blondes?
“Next” is a very good book, and, as it turns out, very informative. Mr. Crichton is not without opinions and his are the following (I quote):
- Stop patenting genes.
- Establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues.
- Pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public.
- Avoid bans on research.
- Rescind the Bayh-Dole Act.
If you want to see a future that may be very frightening, I highly recommend “Next” as your next book to read.
See this Wikipedia entry on Genetically Modified Organisms.
“Airframe” by Michael Crichton
Rating: 3.5 Water Towers
“So now day-to-day life is false, and the media image is true. Sometimes I look around my living room and the most real thing in the room is the television. It’s bright and vivid, and the rest of my life looks drab. So I turn the damn thing off”.
Make no mistake, “Airframe” deals with airplanes, but it also is a commentary (however prophetic since this was published in 1996) about how superficial the media (and I’m including everything here from TV to iPhone to Blackberry to YouTube….whatever) has become and how our lives have followed.
It is all about how it “looks” and skimming the surface, not about reality and depth.
“Airframe” starts aboard TransPacific (TPA) Flight 59 from Hong Kong to Denver. Nearing the end of the uneventful flight suddenly the plane goes nose up, the STALL warnings go off in the cockpit (this is pre-911 so the cockpit doors were open), then the plane noses down into a steep dive, then back up again, then down. The plane is “porpoising”. While all this is happening to the plane, the passengers who are not seat-belted are thrown all over the cabin, the luggage racks open adding to the fury, and people are vomiting and screaming for their lives. After about 2 minutes of massive oscillations, the plane levels out. But now there are three dead passengers and over 50 injured. Flight TPA 59 makes an emergency landing in LA where all the passengers are off-loaded and cared for.
This event triggers the Incident Review Team (IRT) of (the fictitious) Norton Aircraft Company in Burbank, CA into action. The responsibility of this “swat” team of engineers is to ID the cause of any incident that happens involving a Norton built aircraft. TPA 59 happens to be the latest Norton widebody, the N-22. As the team convenes, their leader and Chief Operating Officer (COO), John Marder, gives them only 1 week to find out what happened because there is an impending sale of N-22’s to China and that sale could be jeopardized by this event. One week is a woefully short amount of time, but, grudgingly, the team accepts the challenge and diligently sets off to find the cause.
The pilot of TPA 59 gave two reasons for the oscillations: turbulence and unexpected “slats” deployment (slats extend from the wing to give it more life on takeoff and landing). The fact that he gave these conflicting reports (and that Norton IRT cannot find the pilot to interview him, or the rest of the crew for that matter) heightens the mystery.
Katherine “Casey” Singleton, our heroine, is a Norton Vice President (VP), head of the Quality Assurance (QA) department, and is the main investigator on the IRT team (and also the media spokesperson for this incident should one be needed). It is her responsibility to find the cause and to coordinate the rest of the team’s efforts. If she fails, Marder let it be known it will cost her her job. Lots of pressure.
As the book unfolds, Casey and team slowly uncover the facts behind the oscillation event on TPA 59. Unfortunately for Casey, and unknown to her, there are people who are working behind the scenes to disrupt her and change the direction of Norton Aircraft. In other words backstabbing co-workers and management….
And, once the incident becomes public knowledge, a new wrinkle emerges as the TV show “Newsline” (think ”60 Minutes” or “Nightline”) becomes interested and plans a story to prove that the N-22 is unsafe and is a deathtrap. As this plot line unfolds, Crichton gives us an insider’s glimpse at the superficial world of TV journalism, where the “look” is everything and the “facts” do not matter. A world where the in-front camera reporter does little of the work and the behind the scenes producer does most of it. The producer in this case is a very naive, Jennifer Malone. Jennifer grabs the idea that the N-22 is a deathtrap and runs with that, the hell with the facts that keep coming up trying to ruin her story.
She eventually gets the facts forced on her by Casey….very satisfying.
The ending is very interesting and the reason for the incident is shocking. I enjoyed this book even though it is not the best Michael Crichton I have read (read “Prey”). “Airframe” was definitely entertaining and it brought back old memories.
Speaking of memories, my first job as an engineer, so many moons ago, was at Grumman Aerospace. I must say that the depiction of how the engineers at Norton approached their job, and the pride they had in the N-22, was very realistic. When I was with Grumman, there was true devotion to safety and a palpable pride in the company and their products (F-14 and E-2C (this was my plane when I was in the Navy) Navy planes, and the Lunar Module (LM) that was used in the moon landings and saved the crew of Apollo 13). In fact, I worked in the very same hanger where the LM was made…very exciting. I am still proud of Grumman, which incidentally is now Northrup-Grumman based in LA…hmmmm, interesting how close “Norton” Aircraft is to “Northrup”.