Micro: Crichton’s Novel That Never Should

Micro: The Last Crichton Novel

At the time of Michael Crichton’s death –  God bless his literary and Emmy-winning soul – His assistant found a few unpublished works in his possession. I’ve managed to get my hands on both and will give my personal views on them, though I will focus more on Micro, since Pirate Latitudes is pretty old news.

Pirate Latitudes

Follow Pirate Captain Charles Hunter on A High Seas Adventure In The 17th Century

Follow Pirate Captain Charles Hunter on A High Seas Adventure In The 17th Century

The first one, Pirate Latitudes, is a completed manuscript that for some reason M.C. did not give to his publishers. Released posthumously anyways with approval from his family, I got my hands on it as soon as I could, and dug into it with as much fervour as I had for his earlier books.

Turns out, and this is my personal opinion by the way, there is a good reason why M.C. did not want it published. I found it to be as good a novel as any, for lack of a better way to describe it, it is just not a Crichton book. Having read it twice (I love the setting by the way), it lacks the scale and flair of his previous adventures, and it also lacks the blurring the lines between science and fiction that he is so well-known for. There is still some of it of course, but most of it is lost in translation when you’re talking about gunpowder and rat intestines, instead of lasers and computer-programmed nanobots.

Still a good read, just not a typical M.C. read. Will I recommend this – Yes, highly entertaining, though the proper ending should have come much earlier instead of dragging it on for the low-key ending.

Micro

An adventure of Micro proportions!
An adventure of Micro proportions!

Unlike Pirate Latitudes, Micro is a completely different beast. Firstly, a bit of background, M.C. did not complete this novel in time before his unfortunate demise. HarperCollins, his publisher, chose science-writer Richard Preston to complete the novel from Crichton’s remaining notes and research, and it was finally published in 2011, three years after M.C.’s passing.

Unlike Pirates, which was announced pretty close to his passing and thus enjoyed quite a bit of publicity. Micro was a pretty low-key release. Unless you happen to be specifically watching out for it, there was little about this book in the mainstream media, which led to me getting this book only recently. (I don’t live in the states, books here are a bit more limited.)

In a nutshell, I read about a third of the book a couple of days ago, and haven’t picked it up again since. I was skeptical when I picked it up, and when I started reading it, turns out I was right.

Firstly The Good – This is typical M.C. stuff here, but smaller in scale, a contained adventure which harkens back to his days of Jurassic Park and Sphere instead of the global catastrophes in Next or State of Fear. Pick a group of experts specifically chosen for the purposeful scientific adventure that goes horribly wrong, and push them in the right direction using science-blended fiction goodness to move the plot along. It has worked for Crichton his whole life, it works here as well.

The Not-So-Good – M.C. was never known for tight writing, but this is ridiculous. When I put down the book, I was close to one third in, and it still hasn’t gotten into the main adventure yet. We’re introduced to a bunch of characters and a plot (murder) that just seems pretty meh by Crichton standards. It trudges along for way too long, especially given that Crichton already has taken the liberties of making sure the ENTIRE freaking group knows each other from the very start!

The Bad:

Shortcut to character intros – Crichton’s novels always starts of as an assembly of special talent from across the globe. Even in the case of Timeline, where the cast is pre-assembled in the setup, at least it still makes sense. Micro however, takes the short cut and just dumps the entire cast conveniently as a bunch of scientist-to-bes who happen to not only be in the same university, but also in the same lab, studying completely different things side by side but still behaving like old schoolmates trying to get into the book goods of their professors. By chapter 4, I was already like… why is the botanist in the same lab as the guy extracting Cobra venom. To worsen this introduction, the main protagonist basically goes round the lab talking to each one of his friends and that’s how their work and personalities get introduced. That’s it. At least in Timeline, the protagonist is introduced via his hobbies, the cave-climbing girl via exploring a cave etc. Here, they’re all thrown into the lab and revealed in a contestant 1-2-3 manner.

Poor sub-plot leading to main plot – Lastly, the first pillar, or the point that drives them towards the conflict. It was just too convenient. A minor character dies suddenly and suddenly the protagonist is thrust into action via a sub-plot that somehow leads to the main plot. It was pretty ‘forced’ honestly, like two stories taped together to make it flow.

Forced initiation of main plot without input from main characters – I’ve read just up to the point where the adventure officially begins, but by then I was already half-asleep. Again, not helped by the ridiculousness of how they ‘translated’ into their new settings for the main adventure to being. (WTF moment 3 and game-breaker) Basically, it’s just ‘Follow me! You stand here! You stand there! No questions? Good, fire the laser!” A room full of characters and no one reacted….zzZZZzzz. Sure you can say the subplot led to this point, but given how badly that plot has begun, no surprises that the end fizzled here.Should I finish reading the novel? Maybe. Is it fair that I reviewed the book only on the first 1/3? Why not, would you sit through a bad movie just because it has a super ending… hmm reminds me of StarWars: The Clone Wars.All in all, I think this novel was just the first draft of M.C.’s work and shouldn’t have been released to the public. It makes a mockery of his earlier work in my opinion, and I was so hyped for this just  month back. Now, I think I’ll go back to Prey or AirFrame.

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Experimenting With Horror

Can you tell it's going to be a scary book?

Can you tell it’s going to be a scary book?

I’ve been experimenting with horror/monster fiction lately as I wander through the vast fields of literary options, seeking to settle myself into a comfortable niche. So far, I kind of like it here in Scaresville, finding its sweet spot between the need for fanciful creations and tried and tested settings a very appealing one.

Without even noticing it, I’ve realised that most of my last few half-written stories in the last few weeks have been steering towards that direction. More importantly, I also come to see that I’m to focus on the story from the get go instead of trying to describe or make up the world.  I can express my fiction beyond the limitations of natural laws, yet have a grounded setting that can be typical without being branded as overly cliche.

It’s just something that the reader has come to accept and expect in this genre, that it is ok for Regular Joe to have a couple of coffee in the morning, run into some weird monsters in the afternoon, and save the world in time to have dinner. Rinse and repeat. In fact, if you take the same story, change up the monster/ghost/murderer, it will usually still work without any need for lengthy explanation.

My Journey towards Horror

I originally wanted to go with fantasy, but my beef with it is that it’s become boxed in to a expected set of creatures and myths. E.g. a clean-shaven dwarf who wields a mean bow, prancing through the forest and enjoys strawberries immediately breaks the mould, and you have to try to justify it, i.e. he was raised by the elves etc. Wide universe, but extremely boxed-in.

Then I tried my hand at Science Fiction. Immediately, I found it unsuitable for the shorter kind of fiction that I like. The best ones need to be grand, need a lot of believable science or nonsense leading up to the big reveal and are generally one trick ponies as I have mentioned in my Michael Crichton article. If you read those that succeed like Philip K. Dick (Minority Report) or H.G. Wells (World of the Worlds), they’re actually thrillers / war stories with a sci-fi setting.

My last attempt was actually peeking into the realm of superhero fiction. Maybe it’s just me again, but I kept facing the same issues as in Sci-Fi, while basing my characters off popular ones, so that people already have a picture in their head when I mention them. A crutch I eventually felt that I did not like.

So yea horror. Smooth going so far, though my problem now is the climax. Just a series of smaller battles leading to the big one ala Godzilla, or hold off the violence and make the violent erupt as a build up to the climax ala King Kong. I’m not going to try Stephen’s King arbitrary-in-your-head sort of horror for now. Just going to go with something physical first to muddy the waters.

Journey Through The Darkness

Journey Through The Darkness

My thoughts about the Genre

The best ones all play tricks in your head. They don’t always need to be unexpected, as long as it’s screwed up enough such that the twist that eventually comes still feels satisfying enough. That’s the sweet spot I mentioned earlier. People already know what to expect, yet you still have the liberty to throw a few bones at them and make them crave for more. Readers who complain about typical plots / writing shouldn’t be reading books on murder and monsters anyway while still complaining about the plot. That’s like complaining about Dwarves are cliche in a fantasy realm.

–  The monster isn’t important, the story is. Like superheroes, people already expect the monster to be just that, a monster. It kills people, they know. A man with a knife, he’s going to kill someone. I’ve tried to make my creatures sound or scary, and tried to make my setting more fascinating. But in the end, at the meat is still going to be the story. Origins is an extremely popular topic that readers love, followed by the typical agendas on why it does what it does. Whether the freaky clowns nose is red and round or green with snot doesn’t really matter beyond the initial visualisation. Oh, and the gimmick that your creature does, makes the story interesting, but doesn’t make the story.

Always start with the mundane. A fascinating monster in a bombastic setting sort of takes away the focus from the appearance of a monster/killer. Stick with the mundane or a concept that can be easily understood to make your creature and the story around it stand out.

For example:

The Midnight Snack. 

Peter walks into the kitchen, looking for a snack. In the dark, he notices the carton of chocolate milk sitting on the counter and his eyes perk up. One of the kids must have left it behind while they were packing for their sleepover. Without so much as a thought, he unscrews its top off and chugs it straight from the carton, wondering where the hell his wife is. She was suppose to be back from her book club at eleven.

In the dark, he fails to notice that the red liquid trickling down his chin.

This milk tastes a bit salty, he thinks to himself, smacking his lips as he wipes the dribble off with a hand. Probably just another one of those new fangled flavours that the kids love. Satisfied now, he walks back up the stairs to prepare for a good night’s sleep.

Halfway up though, his stomach starts to gurgle and churn. Not feeling so good, he sits on the steps and rubs his tummy. Wait what’s that bump? Lifting up his shirt he stares at his flabby skin and the tiny lump thumping vigorously at him from the inside.

If anyone of you noticed, yes I took the same plot from my earlier story and just plonked it here with a different setting. Still sort of works. 

Other great posts about Horror on WordPress

Write Habits?

Writing

My Writing Habits

I’m a late-riser, and a late-sleeper. Since there’s no one who needs my time, I basically plan my own day, preferring to write at night, say from 11pm to 4am, when the house is quiet, and when I’m most productive. This is when I write most of my blog posts and do most of my writing. The rest of the time is usually spent doing other writerly stuff like reading or editing.

I get a ‘second’ wind around 5pm – 8pm where I find a can write a fair bit as well. In total, I try to keep about 6-7 hours of pure writing time a day. Anymore and my eye sight gets fuzzy and I just get too tired and go do some other stuff.

From this, you can tell my bio-clock is probably screwed from spending too much time in another timezone 12 hours away since I visit my fiancee in San Fran while I’m in Singapore. (Going back there again in April.)

It’s not right, but it’s how I write.

Writer Work Ethics

That got me thinking about the work-ethics and habits that writers should generally keep, since I know I’m definitely nowhere near role-model standards. So I dug up some recent articles that gives a brief glimpse into the life of writers.

Here is it. BrainPickings.Org – Daily Routine Writers

In it, it chronicles the best bits/habits that some writers have credited for their success. Note, this has nothing to do with writing skill or story-development, its just personal habits to make you more efficient and feel better about what you do.

And for a more detailed look at one of the writer’s routine – BrainPickings.Org – Kurt Vonnegut’s Routine

This post is awesome from the get go with this quote that most of us probably live with everyday.

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”

One of the habits that greatly disturbs me, simply because it seems to be emulated by many writers, including a famous one – Michael Crichton, is this one quoted by William Gibson.

When I’m writing a book I get up at seven. I check my e-mail and do Internet ablutions, as we do these days. I have a cup of coffee. Three days a week, I go to Pilates and am back by ten or eleven. Then I sit down and try to write. If absolutely nothing is happening, I’ll give myself permission to mow the lawn. But, generally, just sitting down and really trying is enough to get it started. I break for lunch, come back, and do it some more. And then, usually, a nap. Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.

[…]

As I move through the book it becomes more demanding. At the beginning, I have a five-day workweek, and each day is roughly ten to five, with a break for lunch and a nap. At the very end, it’s a seven-day week, and it could be a twelve-hour day.

Toward the end of a book, the state of composition feels like a complex, chemically altered state that will go away if I don’t continue to give it what it needs. What it needs is simply to write all the time. Downtime other than simply sleeping becomes problematic. I’m always glad to see the back of that.

This worries me actually. Is sleep deprivation and the closing out of everything but your story so essential to the process. One of my fellow bloggers, Lindaghill, just finished the first draft of her novel as well, and well, it mentions sleep again as the reward for her efforts. Then again, she has an epic 210,000 word novel, I’m not even to 5 figures.

I understand an artist must suffer for his work, but I wonder if there’s some brain chemistry involved here that turns you into a ‘finisher’ when your brain doesn’t get enough sleep. As mentioned in the Michael Crichton post, there seems to be a link between the pace of writing to the amount of sleep you get. Less sleep seems to equate to less description, more action oriented story-driving to bring the story to a close.

Good thing then, that I’m still in the honeymoon period of writing a book. But seriously, these comments seem a little scary. Stop trying to scare people from finishing their book! I’ll set a good example and wake up at 11am and sleep at 9pm and still finish my book.

So what kooky habits do you keep as a writer? Or in life in general.

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