Micro by Michael Crichton & Richard Preston
Michael Crichton of Jurassic Park fame died in 2008. Micro was published in 2011. Readers could be forgiven for thinking that a seance was used to pen this book. Unfortunately, the truth is more mundane. Crichton was already well forward with the story when he passed on. His estate employed Richard Preston to finish the novel. You will have to decide if that was a good idea.
Peter Jansen is a graduate researcher at Cambridge, USA. He specializes in animal venoms and envenomation. He works alongside six other graduates. Rick Hutter is an ethnobotanist; Karen King is an arachnologist; Erika Moll is an entomologist specializing in beetles (coleopterist); Amar Singh is a botanist studying plant hormones; Jenny Linn is a biochemist studying pheromones and Danny Minot is writing a thesis on scientific semantics.
The group are a motley crew uncomfortable with one another as they share labs and life. When Peter’s big brother, Eric, arrives at the site in a Ferrari and with a beautiful female companion, the graduates are faced with a major decision. It transpires that Eric works for a huge research corporation based in Hawaii called Nanigen. The pharmaceutical giant, run by the sociopathic Vin Drake, wants to employ the group to conduct research in the competitive world of medicinal development.
The offer is attractive and the gang decide to at least visit the research facility to see if it’s as good as it promises to be. However, prior to departure, Peter receives a mysterious text from Eric telling him not to come. He hears nothing more. Eric’s phone is switched off. Shortly after, Peter is contacted by Eric’s company girlfriend, Alyson Bender. She informs Peter that his brother is dead, drowned in a tragic boating accident.
When the disconcerted students arrive in Hawaii, Peter is immediately suspicious that all is not as it should be with Nanigen. Alyson and Vin have stories about Eric that make no sense. He decides to investigate and what he uncovers convinces him that his bother was murdered. Upon confronting Vin, Peter’s real problems begin. The true agenda behind Nanigen starts to become clear as the seven graduates find themselves in a life and death battle beyond the scope of normal society or experience.
The title of this novel should be a clue as to what happens. Nanigen have discovered a means of shrinking people and objects. They have been using this secretive technology to send their scientists into a biopark on the island to explore their surroundings in a very different way. Their intention is to discover new chemicals and bio-systems that can be copied to provide profits for the company. There is also a secondary agenda and that is to see if there might be new weapons capabilities to be found in the natural world. The US military are up to their necks in it.
Peter and his friends are forcefully shrunk to about half of one inch tall and find themselves abandoned in the valley of The Pali. There they face all manner of danger as what was tiny becomes monstrous. Ants, spiders, centipedes and bats all pose a very real threat to the small people and they are ill prepared for it. Fortunately, they are experts in their fields and have the knowledge to at least give themselves a fighting chance (see previous bios).
The problems experienced by the unwilling expedition are compounded when Drake sends in a team of killer mercs to ensure that Peter and his friends do not survive. It makes for a gripping plot, although, to be honest, it’s not executed as well as it should have.
The idea of shrinking people is not new. It has been done many times. Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (1989), Inner Space (1987), Fantastic Voyage (1966) and The Phantom Planet (1961) are just some of the better known ones. It’s an interesting concept and creates many possibilities for a good yarn.
Micro does give a vivid and engaging portrayal of what it would be like to find yourself of tiny dimensions. The sheer scale of everything that you regarded as usual would be overwhelming. However, the reaction of the graduates to finding themselves involuntary shrunk is questionable. OK, it’s hard to know how you would react unless you go through it. But happiness! Really?
Rebel Voice does not wish to spoil your enjoyment of this story so beware of the following. Throughout the first part of the book, Peter Jansen is the lead protagonist. He is certainly assisted by the others, but Peter takes point. Then he dies, brutally murdered. It leaves the rest of the story lop-sided. Rebel Voice is a fan of quirky and unexpected story-lines, but killing off your lead is perhaps not the best way to go.
It could be pondered if the decision was made by Preston or Crichton. The entire cast is then whittled down, one by one. This is not a bad ploy to heighten the tension. But the new leads are not fully formed at that time. It just doesn’t feel right. In addition to this error, there are also various other plot mechanisms that do not ring true. There is too much chat when action is called for. Options that should be taken by graduates who employ logic, are not taken.
Although the entire idea of shrinking people is fantastical, there is no excuse for losing the thread entirely as this story does. The saddest thing is that it started out so well but ran wildly off-course. The two authors syndrome may be to blame. However it happened, Micro does not live up to its massive potential. It has been left so that a sequel can be written. Hopefully, mistakes from this episode can be identified and addressed.
As the group try to get back to the lab where they were shrank, nature and the killers take their toll. Soon, there are only two, Karen and Rick, who quite fancy a shag at one another. Imagine that, the only two left and they are sexually attracted to each other. It’s all a tad convenient for this reviewer.
There are robot machines with insect legs able to cling to any surface. There are people falling hundreds of feet without being injured because of the negligible effects of gravity on small people (sounds fun and would surely cure vertigo). There is the construction and flight of tiny solar powered aircraft. And there is the incidence of microscopic drones that enter the human body and kill the person from within. All of these things are more believable, however, than the over-the-top persona of Vin Drake who resembles a cartoon villain.
Micro might entertain you for a while. It may even be sufficient for those who demand less from their fiction. But for Rebel Voice, Micro is a no-no.
Sult scale rating: 5 out of 10. Good idea and decent cast but failed to impress. Hopefully any sequel will be much improved.