I think I read most of Crichton’s works one summer (I was hugely pregnant with twins and mostly bedridden.) There’s a lot of great stories in the man. However, I must have missed this one (perhaps it is newer than 2006? Yep, 2008) and honestly, I’m not so thrilled with the fact that I “went back” for this. It’s no Timeline or Andromeda Strain. It’s kind of close in sphere to Jurassic Park, but it lacks the humanizing qualities. This is a story of man versus machine, and it’s wholly unsatisfying. There’s not a real hero, and the “real villain” is a corporation that is more obsessed with profit margins and fundraising than well, anything else. Add in a marriage on the rocks (or is it) and a disgruntled genius house-husband with a cause, and honestly, it’s like someone hired Crichton to have the robot swarm idea and then hired Michael Bay to write the screenplay for a made-for-tv version, which was accidentally released as a novel.
Jack Forman is out of work after failing to appease his higher-ups at his computer programming task force. Not only is he out of work, he’s blackballed: they’re telling everyone lies about him. His wife, Julia, seems to be having an affair, and Jack can see her distancing herself from their family (two daughters and a son.) After a crisis at home (a cheap jab at raising sympathies by assaulting the family baby) Jack gets a call from the corporation his wife works at: could he come look at this program he wrote and maybe help them sort it out? Jack jumps a helicopter, leaving his kids with his sister, and is rushed off to the Nevada desert, where, in the usual Crichton fashion, there’s a high-tech mystery with high stakes.
And in the usual Michael Bay fashion, there’s fire, explosions, and mindless action, including needless character deaths and half-developed plots that never get us anywhere near the level of engrossment I’d come to expect from Crichton. I actually ended up sympathizing with the nanoswarms: they didn’t make themselves and they barely mattered to the plot. (Yeah, really. Honestly, they matter very little to the actual novel’s plot, and they were the “boogeymen” of the thing!) For all the development lavished on the characters and the nanoswarm, it might as well be a novel about a cougar that picks off cavemen huddled in the dark – if a couple of the cavemen were into saving the cougar at all costs. This novel is little more than a sci-fi thriller waiting to happen – and it might wait for a long time. When Hollywood does get around to it, I might skip it. I already gave it my two hours and $8, after all.
I wanted to like this novel. I still get chills from some of his other titles. Sadly, this one just wasn’t my enchilada platter. It is, however, relatively trigger-free, has no explicit sex, and might interest an older teen/young adult. Given that most of it occurs out in the Nevada desert, it’s quite dystopian, so people who enjoy that in their books might like this one.