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Literature / State of Fear

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State of Fear is a novel by Michael Crichton. In a nutshell: environmental terrorists try to cause a series of "natural" disasters to give the US a very good reason to start spending more on anti-global warming initiatives.

Everyman attorney Peter Evans is in charge of managing millionaire philanthropist Goerge Morton's contributions to an environmentalist organization, the National Environmental Resource Fund (NERF). After Morton's disappearance Evans joins his former assistant Sarah Jones on a globe-trotting series of adventures to thwart various natural disasters that have in fact been engineered by an environmentalist terrorist group. On the way, Evans begins to question what he thought he knew about global warming.

A Global Warming themed conspiracy novel by Michael Crichton, as in "global warming is a conspiracy to get power." Cue the media firestorm calling it controversial, which naturally amounted to free advertising.

State of Fear provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Jennifer Haynes. She manages to free herself from being handcuffed to a pole by climbing the pole — backwards. Then she disables and cuts the throat of the boy soldier who was guarding her, while still handcuffed.
  • Animal Assassin: The main murder method of the bad guys is to get a team of thugs to break in, restrain the target, and press a blue-ringed octopus in a plastic baggie of seawater against their armpit, apparently exactly because it's such a bizarre and unlikely means of execution. It's not portrayed as a very effective method — most of the victims survive the experience with medical help, and no explanation of why they use this particular method is given.
  • Artistic License – Physics: While a great deal of research was clearly done, the weather-control technologies were also exaggerated for dramatic effect.
  • Asshole Victim: Bradley. The fact that he's an asshole doesn't make his murder any less horrific or reprehensible, though.
  • Author Avatar: Professor John Kenner.
  • Author Filibuster: Quite a few, many of which are Character Filibusters by Kenner. Crichton seems aware of this, as he has Sarah think at one point, "I can't take any more lectures from this guy right now."
  • Author Tract: As expected of Crichton. All of the graphs and quotes from scientific journals are footnoted. A bibliography is also included, and he included a pair of essays at the end that literally say "this is the author's message".
  • Big Bad: Nick Drake, though Kenner says his PR guy is actually in charge.
  • Captured by Cannibals: This happens to the group. Bradley says he read in a book somewhere that there never were any real cannibals. Guess what happens to him.
  • Character Filibuster: Pretty much whenever Kenner opens his mouth. It's a Crichton mainstay.
    • Professor Norman Hoffman seems to exist only to drop Character Filibusters that would be out of place for Kenner to make. He's in one scene, drops two or three, and then the Everyman protagonist leaves, while Hoffman attempts to shout a few more at his retreating back.
  • Child Soldier: the rebels on the island use these. The good guys kill most of them apparently without much worry that they are kids.
  • The Conspiracy: An environmentalist organization is really a front for an eco-terrorist organization, one with rather extreme methods.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: a Crichton standard. The ignorant blowhard actor is beaten and then butchered and eaten alive by cannibals
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: An intercepted list of ELF test sites are vaguely reminiscent of nuclear tests.
  • Doomsday Device: The cavitators. Read: earthquake machines.
  • Eco-Terrorist: The Earth Liberation Front, or ELF. Called the Environmental Liberation Front in the book. While the "real" ELF (which stands for Earth Liberation Front) is as far as we know merely a gang of arsonists united only by a common tactic/motive, Crichton's ELF is essentially an ecoterrorist Global Frequency — non-centralized network of fanatically dedicated and skilled operatives. It's likely that the name was chosen as a joke; the ELF's "legitimate" cover organization is called the National Environmental Resource Fund — Nerf!
  • Fun with Acronyms: ELF and NERF.
  • Global Warming: The subject of the book.
  • Idiot Ball: At least twice.
    • Evans doesn't check if the survival gear mentioned is actually in the snow track before driving out on the Antarctic ice, and he seems fine with his local contact removing the emergency transponder from his snow track with the weak excuse that it will let him get music on the radio.
    • Ultra-competent Kenner relies on his local contact's word that all the guns and ammo he asked for are aboard the helicopter. He doesn't discover that the guns aren't there until they land in the middle of hostile territory.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: During his speech, one of the Russian scientists at the environmentalist conference starts talking about "disasters" that the ELF had planned but failed to carry out because Kenner stopped them. After a quick whisper from his handlers, he corrects himself with the excuse that he was reading from a set of old notes. The oblivious media accept his explanation and edit the transcripts of the speech without comment.
  • Karma Houdini: Strange enough for a Crichton book, Big Bad Drake gets off without punishment. That's not what happens to his disciple Ted Bradley.
  • Made of Iron: In the course of about a week, Peter Evans survives falling down an ice crevasse and exposure to 40-below temperatures in Antarctica, having lightning repeatedly strike about a foot away from him, escaping from an SUV in a flooding river during a flash flood, and being bitten by a blue-ring octopus, all without any ill effects beyond a few stitches.
  • Man Behind the Man: Drake is the head of NERF and carries on with Henley a mostly quiet aide. Seeing a video of the two in an office, it's soon clear Drake is an easily manipulated front man and Henley is really the one pushing this entire plot.
    Peter: Doesn't it seem like Henley is the one in charge here?
    Kenner: He's always been in charge. Didn't you know that?
  • Mister Exposition: Kenner, again.
  • Nature Is Not Nice: A central theme;
    Kenner: You think civilization is some horrible, polluting human invention that separates us from the state of nature. But civilization doesn't separate us from nature, Ted. Civilization protects us from nature. Because what you see right now, all around you — [Referring to a tribe of cannibals] this is nature.
  • Noble Savage: Mockingly, painfully subverted. Our unfortunate, vapid actor goes on at some length about how islander village life is healthier than western civilization... the villagers beat him half to death, then eat him alive.
  • Never Found the Body: At one point, a character apparently gets drunk and drives his car off a cliff. They never find the body. Well, until he inevitably comes back to save the day, at any rate. He really doesn't save it, aside from helping to accompany Kenner's crack team. He has been feeding the US investigators information on the ELF camp, however.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Ted Bradley, a high-profile liberal actor best known for playing the President on TV, is partially a parody of The West Wing star Martin Sheen.
  • Only Sane Man: In an interesting meta-spin on the trope, Crichton himself. In his afterward of the novel, following a quick list of facts about the science and politics of the environment, Crichton caps the list with the quip, "Everyone has an agenda. Except me." It's not clear whether he was being serious, or warning the reader to watch out for people who make such statements. It's likely the latter; earlier in the list, he also includes, "I am certain there is too much certainty in the world."
  • Pinball Protagonist: Protagonist Peter Evans spends the entire novel being dragged around the world and talked down to by Author Avatar Kenner, with nearly all of his dialogue being reactions to what other people are saying rather than anything he came up with himself.
  • Shown Their Work: A misleading example — as with all his books, Crichton provides his references, even footnoting them, and he includes an annotated bibliography. Some of the sources accused Crichton of misrepresenting their work or outright inventing falsehoods, while other sources were simply laughably unreliable.
  • Strawman Political: Replete with them, the most obvious one being the ELF-supporting celebrity that, at one point, believes a poverty-ridden third-world city is "in touch with nature". He gets eaten by cannibals, starting with getting his cheek cut off.
  • Take That!:
    • Potentially the ELF, though in an odd twist Crichton portrays them as significantly higher-tech and better organized and funded than the real life version in order to justify having them as the antagonists.
    • Ted Bradley seems to be there just to show how horrible and misinformed Hollywood actors are.
    • The book's theme is essentially one big fuck you to the idea of living In Harmony with Nature or anything else that appeals to it, as seen with the cannibal tribe that killed and ate Ted Bradley.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Again, the subject of the book. Additionally, the ELF tries to heighten awareness of global warming by using a variety of "natural" disasters, culminating in earthquake generators to cause a Tsunami that will damage California pretty badly.
  • This Loser Is You: Peter Evans, especially concerning his initial views over global warming. He also panics fairly often, and Sarah, his potential love interest, at one point thinks of him as a nice guy but kind of a wimp.
  • Trivial Title: The title refers to the thesis that the U.S. government and the media are collaborating to keep the public in a near-constant panic, ensuring their continued power. This thesis was completely overshadowed (both in the novel, and in the Real Life media controversy surrounding the novel) by the secondary point that global warming in particular is just the latest hoax used to perpetuate the state of fear.
  • Villain Ball: Fighting people near cavitation machines which are about to set off a tsunami and are vibrating quickly enough to smash you into itty-bitty pieces is not going to bode well for your face.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • The two assassins working for the ELF, much bandied about in the intro and first half, after trying to befriend the main character and instead paralyzing the private detective spying on him, disappear completely from the narrative.
    • Likewise, said detective also disappears after he's rescued in the nick of time, though his injuries will likely keep him out of commission for a while.
    • Also, Drake and the ELF's fate is left unresolved at the end of the novel.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: The ELF assassins would be much more effective if they just used bullets rather than octopus bites. They only manage to kill one person with an octopus bite, and it's because they throw him in a river while he's still paralyzed. For some reason, they don't arrange similar accidents for any of their other would-be victims, and as a result, they all survive.
  • Writer on Board: It's Crichton, to be sure. If you know his works, it should be obvious here.
  • Ye Goode Olde Days: Subverted. A popular environmental enthusiast says "that people who live closer to the earth, in their villages, surrounded by nature, that those people have a natural ecological sense and a feeling for the fitness of it all", that "village life is best and ecologically soundest", and "everyone in the world should live that way, and certainly, we should not be encouraging village people to industrialize." However, whenever he visits those areas, he stays in hotels.
    • He's openly mocked on when one of the natives of the area snaps "You got cell phones, you got computers, you got antibiotics, medicines, hospitals. And you say the old ways are better?" Said native was hired to take them to the general area of the ELF's last attack, but after hearing that, he has no problem pulling a fast one on them, he leaves behind the guns they brought for the final confrontation, instead bringing a second case full of bullets as supplies for his own allies.