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Literature / Micro

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Micro is a 2011 Science Fiction, Adventure and Techno-thriller novel written by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston. It 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 non-fiction 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.

The protagonists:

  • Peter Jansen, an expert on venomous reptiles.
  • Karen King, a specialist in spiders and a martial arts expert.
  • Rick Hutter, an expert in tribal herbal remedies.
  • Amar Singh, an expert on plant hormones of Indian descent.
  • Erika Moll, a beetle expert from Germany.
  • Jenny Linn, a biochemist specialized in pheromones.
  • 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.

This group of grad students are working in a secluded college laboratory in Massachussets. Their 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 the grad studens accept and 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 his brother 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. Drake initially intends to feed the tiny humans to a snake kept in one of the labs, but Alyson has an attack of conscience and sticks the shrunken humans in a paper bag in her purse, from which they escape into Hawaiian nature.

Peter, Karen, Rick, Erika, Amar, Danny, Jenny and the technician, Jarel Kinsky then find 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, he 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.
  • Action Girl: Karen. She's tall, muscular and trained in martial arts. She kicks ass when the students are shrunk.
  • Anti-Villain: Strangely enough, the two Mooks Johnstone and Telius. Drake lies to them, saying the disappeared eight students are saboteurs from a corporate rival. As far as they know, they are protecting their employer's interests from industrial espionage.
  • Anyone Can Die: Peter Jansen starts as the book's main protagonist and the de facto leader of the team, and he's ruthlessly killed off anyway. Nearly all of the other shrunken students also meet horrible ends; Karen and Rick are the only survivors out of the whole group.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Strong magnetic fields do not make matter shrink.
  • Asshole Victim: Danny Minot. Once everybody gets into the micro world, he's the only one that doesn't care about the others and only wants to screw them over for his own survival. And it culminates in his betraying the remaining survivors, knowing they will be killed, to Vincent Drake, in order to save his own ass.
  • 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. He is a ruthless business man who will kill anybody who is in his way cruelly - as is evident by the end of the novel, he has killed at least 13 people (that the police are aware of, anyway). And the terrifying thing is he only seems to do it for monetary gain superficially, but in the end really does seem to enjoy seeing people suffer.
  • 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 to show off just how incredibly successful 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.
    • Telius gets eaten by a spider. Since spiders digest their prey outside their bodies, he gets injected with venom and melts/dissolves/bursts from the inside out. The book describes the spider venom as "Ebola in 30 seconds".
    • The murders executed by the micro-bots. They slash open their victims with an immense number of tiny cuts until the victim bleeds to death. The cruelness is not so much in painfulness (it is noted to be mostly painless) but more in the panic that overwhelms victims because they don't understand what's happening to them. Except in the case of Vincent Drake, who does know exactly what's happening to him when he's killed by his own invention.
    • Averted in the case of Karen, when she's picked up by a Minah bird. Mynahs are insect-eaters, and their gizzards are like cement truck drums filled with gravel shards and strong acid, 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.
  • Death of a Thousand Cuts: How Nanigen's micro-bots kill their victims.
  • 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.
    • Don Makele eventually decides enough is enough and goes to the police about Drake.
  • 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.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Danny. While the rest of the grad students get along to varying degrees, literally no one likes Danny and actively scorn him. Unlike the rest of the grad students, he's only a part of the lab because the head researcher's wife is his cousin.
  • Getting Eaten Is Harmless: Karen, is eaten alive by a bird but manages to not be killed. Unlike most examples of this trope, it's justified by the fact that she was stuck in the bird's craw rather than its stomach, so she wasn't being digested yet.
  • 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.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man
  • Innocently Insensitive: Before the main plot kicks off, Peter lightly teases Karen for arming herself with pepper spray and a knife as they walk to class, since they're in a nice neighborhood in the daytime. Karen promptly informs him that her half-sister was brutally raped in broad daylight, so she has every reason to be cautious.
  • 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.
  • Loners Will Stay Alone: Karen initially decides to stay in the micro-world alone because of this, reasoning that she "can't love anybody." This doesn't wind up happening, and she and her love interest do wind up together, although she does vow to return to the micro-world eventually in the end.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Jenny is known to be very attractive and fashionable but is also one of the sweetest.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: How Drake disposes of Alyson and covers up the missing people's disappearance: 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.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: At the end of the book, Drake is dead and the survivors are being rescued by the police as tiny microbots attack them. Enter the pathologist wielding...a horseshoe magnet, which effortless captures the microbots attacking people for easy destruction.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Almost. It seems that we're headed that way: Drake has intentionally killed The creator of the Tensor device (actually failed to, but then later has a goon finish the job) and Eric Jansen, the only other person who understands how it works. Then Drake, who only partially understands the technology, is killed by an enlarged security bot, which then goes on to destroy the Tensor generator and create an explosion which completely decimates the whole facility — the only Tensor Generator facility. Only when the Sequel Hook appears is this averted.
  • Off with His Head!: Kinsky gets his head ripped off by ants.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Micro-humans are this compared to normal humans. Physical laws, such as gravity, having different mass/volume/surface ratios, and air resistance, affect them differently on their scale. Due to this, the micro-humans have comparatively more strength (e.g. characters easily carry each other for long distances without being much worn out by it, even women carrying men), can leap astounding heights, and easily jump down comparatively huge distances without getting hurt. When Karen is transformed back to her normal human size at the end, she is confused she can't simply pick up and carry Rick on her back anymore - it takes a moment to sink in for her that at normal size, it isn't so easy to carry another human.
  • 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. Also, Karen's insistence that she'll find a way back into the micro-world. "Once things get invented, they don't get un-invented. There's a way." and a microbot possibly escaping Sadly, this will be averted since this is a Michael Crichton book.
  • Shout-Out The hexagonal motif in the Tensor Generator room, and the book's section title pages recall Fantastic Voyage.
  • Shrink Ray: A rare modern example that isn't Played for Laughs.
  • The Shut-In: Karen was this in Cambridge.
  • 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.
  • Tender Tears: Many of the characters cry after Jenny's death. Erika Moll in particular is very emotionally distraught, and her mental state only gets worse as the plot goes on and more of the team dies, causing her to shed these often.
  • Too Stupid To Live: Danny. As one may have guessed from above tropes, he basically exists to make the reader facepalm.
  • Tranquil Fury: After Eric Jansen learns how his little brother was killed, he calmly states his intent to find Vin Drake, the man responsible for his death.
  • 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.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: When Drake burns down Tantalus base, Ben Rourke is still inside. Rick and Karen escape and Karen fears Rourke is dead, but Rick remarks that he doesn’t think someone who has survived the micro world for so long should be counted out. Despite this, Rourke is not seen or mentioned again.


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