Literature: Micro

Micro is a 2011 science fiction, adventure, techno-thriller novel written by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston. This was the final novel Crichton started before his death in 2008. He hadn't finished it before that time, leaving it about one-third done. Preston, author of the nonfiction The Hot Zone (about the Ebola virus) and other science-oriented works, was chosen to finish the story and he made use of Crichton's remaining notes and research to do this.

A group of grad students are working in a secluded college laboratory. In short order we meet Peter Jansen, an expert on venomous reptiles, Karen, a specialist in spiders and a martial arts expert, Rick Hutter, an expert in tribal herbal remedies, Amar Singh, an Indian student, Erika Moll, a German student, Jenny Linn, a student who may or may not be of Asian descent, but is definitely a lesbian, and Danny Minot, whose research is to prove there are no objective truths. No one else at the lab likes him, but he seems unaware of this.

The group's research is interrupted by the arrival of Peter's brother Eric and a man and a woman, Vincent Drake and Alyson Bender from Nanigen. They're here to offer the students jobs at the up and coming research center, which is located in Hawaii. Once they arrive in Hawaii, Drake reveals that Nanigen's secret is shrinking technology. By means of something called a tensor core, Nanigen can shrink objects and people down to tiny size and send them into the "micro-world" to explore nature.

When Eric disappears and Peter discovers that Drake is up to dirty dealings and messing around with deadly nanobots, Drake decides all of the newly hired students need to "disappear." He shrinks them all down, along with a hapless technician who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Capturing the teeny humans in a bag, Drake initially intends to feed them to a snake kept in one of the labs, Alyson has an attack of conscience and sticks the shrunken humans in her purse and lets them go free outside.

She lets them go outside. Peter, Karen, Rick, Erika, Amar, Danny, Jenny and the technician, Jarel Kinsky, discover themselves in the tiny jungle world, and have to find a way back to normal size. In the meantime, Drake has learned of Alyson's betrayal. Not content to trust in nature to kill off the shrunken humans, shrinks two Nanigen goons, Johnstone and Telius, and sends them into the micro-world to hunt them down...

This book provides examples of:

  • Accidental Public Confession: As Vincent Drake tries to kill Peter, he happily confesses to murdering Peter's brother. Then he realizes that Peter was wearing a microphone connected to Nanigen's speaker system. This kicks off the entire plot.
  • Affably Evil: Vincent Drake is calm, generous, friendly, and calmly disarms Rick's anti-corporate ranting...
    • Faux Affably Evil: ...Up until Peter reveals his plot to the other crew, in which he becomes a sleazebag degenerate with an Evil Laugh.
  • Anti-Villain: Strangely enough, the two Mooks Johnstone and Telius. He lies to them, saying they're saboteurs from a corporate rival. As far as they know, they were protecting their employer's intrests.
  • Artistic License – Biology: No, birds do have stomachs - gizzards. But very fortunately for Karen, they also have crops.
  • Asshole Victim: Danny Minot.
  • Author Tract: A recurring Crichton moral is that nature is nasty.
    • Danny Minot is one big Take That at science studies, psychology, and philosophy. This may be from the influence of Richard Preston, who is harder on soft sciences than Crichton was.
  • Beige Prose: Oddly, the book's descriptions are flat, even compared to Crichton's prose, or Preston's.
  • Big Bad: Vincent Drake
  • Body Horror: Danny and the parasitic wasp larvae.
  • Bury Your Gays: Jenny Linn is stated to "play for the other team". She is the first one killed out of the entire student group by a flash flood, not including Kinsky, the technician from Nanigen, who is eaten by ants.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Vincent Drake, full stop. He might just be the most cartoonishly evil villain Crichton ever wrote. He takes such joy in being evil for the sake of it, and his hyperactive insanity while committing his evil acts is pretty infectious; it's hard not to respect the guy for loving what he does, despite how boneheaded he is, as far as evil masterminds go.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Drake's business partner, Edward Catel. Catel disappears for half the novel only to reappear at the end, long after most people have forgotten about him. He swipes a disc containing info about the tensor, intending to sell it off.
  • Cool Car: Drake's Bentley.
    • Improbably Cool Car: Eric, Alyson and Drake arrive in a trio of Lamborghinis, apparently just to show off just how successfuly Nanigen is.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Vincent Drake: egotistical, extremely confident that he'll change the world (and he just might) to become fabulously wealthy, and views any threat at not getting all the profit with violent hatred and believes that Murder Is the Best Solution to said threats.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: This being a Michael Crichton book, there are several. One character gets literally butchered and dismembered by ants, who then carry him piece by piece back to the ant hill. Other characters get eaten by other animals, drowned, blown up, impaled and exploded apart, smashed against walls, etc. Probably the most gruesome death is Telius, who gets eaten by a spider. However, since spiders digest their prey outside their bodies, he gets injected with venom and melts/dissolves/bursts from the inside out. Let's just leave it at this: the book describes the spider venom as "Ebola in 30 seconds".
    • Averted in the case of Karen. Mynah birds are insect-eaters, and their gizzards are like cement truck drums filled with gravel shards, meant to break apart chitin armor. But the one that swallows Karen stores her in its crop instead of passing her straight down to its gizzard, and that saves her life.
  • Deadly Euphemism: When Vincent Drake assembles his security team to track down the students, he asks his Head of Security that security is forming a "rescue party" to "recover" the students. The only reason this succeeds is because security is under the impression they're corporate spies, not students in the wrong place in the wrong time trying to escape Vin.
  • Dwindling Party: As is typical for a Michael Crichton book, our heroes are dropping like flies at every turn. The micro world is insanely dangerous.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Alyson Bender has second thoughts about what's being done to the students, but she waffles on it. Drake kills her anyway after he realizes she's no longer reliable.
  • Fatal Family Photo: A "I want to go home and see my wife and kids" variant. An engineer tricked into starting the Tensor core to shrink the students talks about trying to get home before he catches the micro-bends and dies, because he's got a family. He is the first casualty in the entire group, disturbing soldier ants from a Bighead Ant colony, who surround him and promptly tear him to shreds.
  • Hard on Soft Science: Danny Minot, a sniveling, pretentious "science studies" major who works in studying "paradigms" and scientific terminology, which, in practice, amounts to bothering the students with meaningless questions as they do real work, and is only in the lab because the head researcher's wife is his cousin. He is trying to suck up to Vincent Drake on the entire trip to Hawai'i, uselessly quotes philosophers, is responsible for Jenny's death by letting her drown after being too afraid he'll be pulled into a flash-flood of raindrops, refuses to help with the group fashioning weapons and poison as defense (and would have stayed in the bunker if it hadn't been destroyed by the Chief of Security chopping it in half), mocks Erica's faith and prayer when she's severely traumatized by several deaths and the whole gravity of the situation, and worst of all, tries to sell out the survivors to Nanigen. It's not known if this was Crichton's intention (as Crichton has had psychology portrayed positively before), or Preston's.
  • Heroic BSOD: Erika, after shrinking, is constantly in horrified shock after the first death occurs - it ramps up to obvious PTSD when Peter is slain. The survivors (minus Danny) have to keep encouraging her to move and to try to get her mind off her lover's death. She finally melts down when the mynahs attack, trying to escape in the insect truck in a fit of total panic. It doesn't work - the mynahs spot the shiny, pluck her neatly out of the driver's seat, and dismember her.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Karen attempts this to try and save Erika's life when Erika completely shuts down and flees from the group in a truck during a Mynah attack...
    • Stupid Sacrifice: It's a complete spur of the moment thing and Erika winds up getting bashed against rocks and torn in half, AND gets Karen eaten. If it weren't for the mynah who swallowed her up having just eaten, she'd be dead.
  • The Hero Dies: In a major subversion of most of Crichton's work, Peter, de-facto team leader and most level headed of the crew, is gibbed by a shot from the two Mooks assigned by Drake to track them down. Rick, portrayed as a grumbling, impotently rageful anti-corporate environmentalist who claims to have braved Costa Rica's wilderness when he actually stayed in a hotel after three days of mosquitoes, becomes the protagonist. Also, Peter's brother, supposedly killed in the beginning, shows up to help take down Drake.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Danny mocks Erika whenever she prays.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Vincent Drake dies this way after getting impaled by an enlarged security nanobot.
  • Jerkass: Danny, post-shrinking. He complains every step of the way, forces the team to stop to deal with his petulant antics, lets Jenny drown to save his hide, mocks Erika - who is deep in shock and mourning after Peter's death, and eventually tries to sell out the team to Vincent Drake.
    • Rick, before his promotion to protagonist. It's noted he's a confrontational eco-warrior about everything and brags about the field work he's done (when, in fact, he was driven off by mosquitos and spent the trip in an air-conditioned hotel).
  • Lampshade Hanging: There is a sequence where Amar asks just how they're still functioning if their atoms have been completely shrunk down, along with all the microorganisms and cells inside them, such as intestinal bacteria. All the students can surmise is that Nanigen really doesn't understand their tech well.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: How Drake disposes of Alyson and covers up the missing people's disapearance: he puts a knocked-out Alyson in his Bentley and shoves it off of a cliff, the cover story being that he students, rejoiced at being hired, went and got drunk, and drove off a cliff into the ocean. No word on how he would've explained the absence of Kinsky, the Nanigen technician who got shrunk alongside the heroes, and who wouldn't have been partying with Alyson and the students.
  • My Girl Is a Slut: Erika's noted to have slept with many men. Peter has zero problem with this.
  • The Load: Happens to a few people as they get hurt, but Danny is this through the whole trip.
  • Off with His Head!: Kinsky gets his head ripped off by ants.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: One of the students, Danny, tries to sell out the protagonists to Vincent Drake just to save his own hide. However, his stolen micro-plane is attacked by bats and he gets killed off before he can even meet up with Vincent Drake.
  • Sequel Hook: Edward Catel with the disk containing info about Nanigen's shrinking technology.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Rick and Karen absolutely despise each other - Karen thinks Rick is a try-hard know-it-all with a stick up his ass about environmental policy who chickened out in an expedition after all his ballyhooing of nature. Rick hates her for this. Naturally, after Peter and Erika's death, they get together.
  • Swallowed Whole: Most of the predators of the micro world rend, tear, liquefy and destroy - but (usually) not birds and bats. Happens to Karen when a mynah bird swallows her, with her bottle of beetle toxin, into its non-digestive crop. She escapes when Rick hits it with a harpoon and she releases the toxin, causing the bird to vomit her back up. Implied that Danny suffers the same fate when a bat attacks and destroys his micro-plane.
  • Too Stupid To Live: Danny. As one may have guessed from above tropes, he basically exists to make the reader facepalm.
  • Villain Ball: Nothing Drake does makes even the barest minimum of logical sense, serving only to dig him deeper and deeper into the hole of his own creation, and he is at all times needlessly sadistic.