STATE OF FEAR is Michael Crichton’s fourteenth novel. It is also, interestingly enough, his best. One would think that such a highly regarded household name as Crichton would have a larger bibliography, but he has sacrificed quantity for that rare, elusive element known as quality. This element is immediately evident on the very first page of STATE OF FEAR.
Having said that, STATE OF FEAR may be an unpopular book in some quarters, because the villain is a radical environmental group. Along the way, Crichton skewers global warming, the greenhouse effect, and the like --- and does so in a fact-filled but nonetheless extremely entertaining fashion.
The story begins with a number of unusual and seemingly unrelated incidents that occur in different cities around the world. But things quickly coalesce around a radical environmentalist group called the National Environmental Resource Fund (NERF), which is outwardly respectable but appears to be the locus of the incidents. Peter Evans, an attorney who represents NERF as well as one of its major contributors, is a true believer amongst the environmentalists.
He soon finds his beliefs challenged, however, by an enigmatic gentleman named John Kenner, who is ostensibly employed by Center For Risk Analysis and who has the irritating habit of quietly refuting Evans’s opinions on global warming and the like. Even worse, he has the documentation --- thoughtfully reproduced and referenced by Crichton --- to back himself up.
Evans is at first irritated, but gradually comes to realize that NERF is distorting and exploiting data regarding global warming for its own nefarious, self-perpetuating ends. Evans soon finds himself aiding Kenner in his attempts to sabotage a series of man-made events designed to mislead the public --- and which, by design, will cause deadly catastrophe.
Crichton --- who has been a writer of cautionary tales ever since his first novel, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN, firmly established his reputation --- has never been more brilliant, or prescient, than he is in STATE OF FEAR. It is coincidental, and frightening, that a housing development in Maryland was burned by a group of radical environmentalists the same week that the novel saw its initial publication. While STATE OF FEAR is a work of fiction, life is imitating its art. Read, and weep.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011