Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review: PIRATE LATITUDES

When I first saw Pirate Latitudes at the library, I was taken aback, since I was pretty sure Michael Crichton had died a couple of years ago. I read the liner notes and saw that it had been found as a complete manuscript in his files, which made me even more hesitant; usually when a writer hangs onto a manuscript, it means they're not happy with it. But having read almost everything else Crichton wrote, I decided to risk it and checked it out.
And it isn't bad. It's not up to the standards of his best work, but the world of the 17th century Caribbean comes alive, and the story, of a hunt for a treasure galleon and the machinations around capturing it and then keeping the treasure, moves right along, with a bit of a twist at the end. The departure from Crichton's usual work is that there is no technological innovation integral to the story line, no larger point to be made, no odd plot diversion. Which, considering what a disservice State of Fear has done to the world at large, is probably a good thing.
This is not a review of State of Fear, but I have to add, in all fairness, that my loathing of the views expressed in that book, and of global warming skepticism in general, colors my perceptions of Crichton. I loved his work up until 2004, but his placing himself in the dark side camp swore me off his books for a couple of years (I did not read Next until last year because of that). I am not going to go off on a big rant about it, but there are three main points I want to make:
1) Global warming is real, and there is no reasonable doubt that fossil fuel burning is the major factor why. The evidence would stand up in any courtroom in the world.
2) If there is a constant theme in human history, it is that people value money above everything else. People can and will go to ridiculous lengths to justify practices that are injurious to all, most of all those like global warming where there is no immediate and egregious harm being done, if it affects their ability to make and continue to make money easily.
3) It is instructive that the skeptics have to turn to a novelist, and one as rich as Croesus and a child of privilege to boot, for their most eloquent arguments against global warming. What it means is that those whose job it is to know scientfic data and trends are being to be discarded in favor of the views of someone who writes fiction. This seems a curious state of affairs. I am not saying that the science establishment is uniformly correct, or that fiction writers cannot have legitimate views on scientific controversies--but in a case like this, where the vast preponderance of evidence is on one side of the scale, it means, to be blunt, that Crichton used his fame as a bully pulpit in the service of greed and privilege at the expense of our descendants' ability to live in a habitable world. Michael Crichton got his, in plain English, and failed miserably on the human obligation to make sure others have a fair chance to have the opportunities he himself had.
It doesn't make him a bad author, but it has to be said. And maybe his sudden catastrophic death from a fast-moving cancer was a sort of cosmic justice. Funny how that works.

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