24 Following


I like big books.


Congo - Michael Crichton Don't judge me.

I read Jurassic Park as a kid and remember loving it since I didn't have the money to go see the movie when it first came out, but I was an undiscriminating twelve years old at the time. I felt the stirrings of adventure covering Stanley's escapades in Africa teaching imperialism and decided to give Congo a go, and man was I impressed. I don't think I fully appreciated Crichton's attention to scientific detail in anything I've ever read of his before. Congo tells a story that's at the intersection of insatiable cutting-edge corporate greed and the drive and ambition of pure science. A corporate-funded jaunt into the Congo to look for a natural source of ultra-rare type II blue diamonds for next generation optical computers violently and mysteriously disappears. Hoping to get back in the game and to edge out the competition Earth Resources Technologies sends in a back-up team led by an insanely book smart and ambitious Karen Ross with the support of mercenaries and the erudite, but self-absorbed primatologist Dr. Elliot and his gorilla Amy, who's been troubled by nightmares of a mysterious lost city that just so happens to be near the site of the purported diamond mine jackpot. The ensuing adventure is both romantic and scientific and Crichton's writing strongly reminded me of the best of Arthur C. Clarke - informative, daring and exciting all in one. Crichton, like Clarke, seems to have mastered the skill of the academic aside, seamlessly transitioning between narrative and well-researched (often footnoted) information dumps that are as colorful as the best of BBC's Planet Earth or Africa series.

Crichton was way ahead of his time. Published in 1980, the book utilizes what must have seemed like purely fictional gadgetry that is relatively common place and in use today. In fact, if it hadn't been for the explicit reference to political developments in the central African region dated to the 70s, I'd have thought the story was taking place in the early part of the 21st century. All of the technology is within the realm of the plausible, and never the product of pure invention to satisfy particular plot points, as is so often the case in science fiction. The technology is made to serve the story and the story at times feels like a vehicle for spreading the joy of discovery, the wonder of the natural world and a conservation ethos. Braniacs are the heroes rather than gunslinging cowboys and there's a lot of interesting anthropological anecdotes and observations along the way too.

Purely superficial, but I could still revel in the romance of the old-school adventure/travelogue story, especially where lost cities and new undiscovered species are concerned. I'm going to have to give the rest of Crichton's works a look.