Michael Crichton, the world-renowned author of science-thriller classics “Jurassic Park” and “The Andromeda Strain,” passed away three years ago–but left behind the bones of his last novel. After the first third of the book was discovered in his papers, his publisher and agent engaged Richard Preston, bestselling author of “The Hot Zone,” to write the rest of Crichton’s unfinished novel. This much-anticipated posthumous collaboration, “Micro,” was released just before Thanksgiving.
Part tech-thriller and part wilderness adventure, “Micro” is the story of seven graduate researchers at a Harvard biology lab who go on a recruiting trip to Nanigen MicroTechnologies, headquartered in Hawaii. One of them, Peter Jansen, has a personal connection to the company in the form of his elder brother Eric, a vice president at the firm. There is, as Peter soon discovers, more to the situation than meets the eye; Eric texts Peter the cryptic message “don’t come” the day he dies in a suspicious boating accident. The grad students, however, ignore the warning and fly to Hawaii, where Peter unveils an incriminating phone conversation (itself obtained illegally) in an attempt to force Nanigen CEO Vin Drake to admit to murdering Eric. Drake, anxious to cover up his misdeeds, uses Nanigen’s latest innovation to shrink all seven grad students (and one unlucky Nanigen employee) to the size of pinheads, and he intends to kill them.
What ensues is a brutal race for survival in the Hawaiian forest, as they race to return unnoticed to Nanigen headquarters and use the machine to restore themselves to their natural sizes. One cannot help but be reminded of “Jurassic Park;” to people only millimeters tall, every insect is a threat the size of Tyrannosaurus Rex. They find themselves evading not only birds and spiders, but also Drake’s corporate assassins, sent to eliminate them as soon as they are discovered missing.
“Micro” does not escape some of the pitfalls common to the thriller genre, including that of sacrificing character development in favor of premise and plot. Most of the main characters fall into neat stereotypes: the sanctimonious academic elitist, the feisty female martial arts expert, the cowardly turncoat and perhaps the flattest stock character of all, the evil CEO who will stop at nothing to sate his greed. As the story progresses and the protagonists are picked off one by one in gruesome encounters with the local fauna, the reader is hardly surprised that–with one notable exception–the less important characters are first to die. The plot, too, is a little thin; for all the corporate intrigue and international impacts it promises, most of the book chronicles the students’ journey through the forest, almost like a reality television show where a character is eliminated–permanently–every few chapters. “Micro” provides the occasional adrenaline rush, but it soon becomes somewhat predictable.
What really shines in “Micro” is the ecological detail. The sheer variety and specificity of the oversized predators in the book hint at the amount of research that must have been conducted while writing it. The grad students each have their own area of expertise, ranging from toxins to arachnids to indigenous medicine, and these specialized bodies of knowledge come in handy as they encounter relevant threats–the authors painstakingly describe the various ways in which predators are neutralized. Although this particular element contributes greatly to the verisimilitude of the plot, it simply isn’t enough.
Ultimately, “Micro” reads more like a very detailed summary of a book (albeit with some cinematic action sequences tossed in) than an actual book–which is likely not far from the truth. It is, one might imagine, difficult to co-write with a dead man; this reader would not be surprised if Preston wrote his way through Crichton’s copious notes, thinking, “I hope that’s what he meant.”