State Of Fear – Michael Crichton

Well, I’ve finished it. Not quite all 798 pages ( I stopped at the “B”s in the Bibliography, figuring I can finish the last few pages of that tomorrow ;-)

First off, it’s a heck of a lot easier to read 700+ pages of this, than any of the other many hundreds page books I’ve tried. Things like The Bible, the Koran, The Encyclopedia Britannica, Samuelson- Economics… I think I was able to knock it out in 2 elapsed days, with some amount of ‘normal life’ happening at the same time. (Bunny tending, gardening, some dishes, news check). At this point I have to rescind my earlier complaint about the length. It is divided into several sections of substantially complete content, so you can “break” at convenient points. Structured more like 4 short novels in one book.

General Impressions

Overall, I liked it. A reasonably “fun” read, with a clear understanding of the global warming fad / movement worked into it (both as “plot device” and as “public information”). I do have to admit that I did not enjoy it as much as I ought to have enjoyed it. No, not through any fault of the book. It was all me. Generally when I read a novel, it’s “Full Immersion” mode. Imagination is just left “full on” and it’s like I’m inside a 3D movie. Someone says “It was a typical greasy spoon Italian joint, faint garlic in the air” and I’m smelling garlic and have a flash back to the “Spaghetti Feeds” they had in my home town (school cafeteria that, in those days, had a full kitchen and was used by all sorts of civic groups) and the particular smells and tastes of that somewhat garlicy spaghetti and garlic bread… I don’t so much read the words as let them just directly drive the mind. In this case I had a second motive. Answer the question “Could I ‘channel Michael Crichton’?” That is, could I figure out what he was doing as author, how he constructed scenes, what he did for character development, how the plot line had been imagined, what were his motivations and how did he ascribe motivations to his characters. In short, to be analytical of the text, while being “in the moment” of the story. A hard task… Two completely different mind states.

By about page 500 I’d pretty much caught on to how the structuring was done and found myself lapsing ever more into “immersion” and away from “analytical”. It’s a much more pleasant way to read a novel ;-) At any rate, I was mostly able to “run both at once” with only a little sporadic jarring of the immersion effect in the early chapters as stray analytical thought would pop up: “He has minimal character development”… “He uses male color pallet -white, blue, red; not a female color pallet – cream, azure, crimson”… “He is hinting that the dead person isn’t dead, leaving the door open for a return later with the phrase ….” “Enter Arch Villain Character”. “Here he shifts to ‘educational narrative’ in the guise of legal plot device”… And so on. Kind of like watching a movie with someone in the next seat sporadically leaning over to say “He’s not really the bad guy, you can tell by the way the female lead is hitting on him.”

OK, with that said:

It is, IMHO, one of the best $10 I’ve spent in the last few years. Heck, the bibliography alone is worth that. The notion of a Novel with Footnotes and References is worth that. The “ride” through the adventure is worth way more than that. I’d love to see it as a movie, but doubt it will ever happen. (First off, there’s already some other movie out their with the same title and different plot; but more importantly, I don’t see Hollywood ever gritting its teeth enough to make the movie… and if they did it would be completely re-written to match THEIR narrative of the world…)

In broad outline, there is a Global Environment Group trying to gin up support (and money) via creating a bunch of “natural” disasters around the world. Flash floods, tsunami, hurricanes. (There’s a fair amount of ‘weather control’ as a plot device in the book, that I need to check for any ‘roots’ in real science or attempted ideas). There is a wealthy benefactor who is suspicious his money is not being well used by that group. And from there, the book runs the problem set forward… Character building, setting them at each other with some tensions and strains, The Problems, a discovery of Deeper Issues (with The Mysterious Stranger slowly transmuting into central character). Then as set of “vignettes” as the cast sets off on adventures around the world, saving humanity from a variety of Evil Deeds. With a great deal of fun action scenes along the way. I won’t tip the ending here. Interspersed between action scenes are the occasional “moral narrative” scenes where the Global Warming As Hoax evidence is neatly woven into the plot line. Fairly seamless and quite appropriate to the context. I mostly noticed it as I was directly looking for it (and as those were the bits with footnotes and references…)

The novel ends with an Authors Bias statement and Bibliography. Rather charming additions. There is also a retrospective on Eugenics and Soviet Science that was informative in its own right.

Could I Do It?

I doubt it. Certainly not on a ‘first effort’. He has many years and books already published. That’s a lot of experience. I could likely come close (and could likely duplicate some of the skill level of earlier works). But I’m pretty sure that it would take me a couple of years and a whole lot of effort to try and crank out anything even remotely close to this work.

On the flip side, I’m pretty sure that I could do a credible job on a 200 to 300 page treatment of a smaller aspect with similar effect. I would likely be able to do a better job of some aspects of character development and description, if nothing else I’d ask the female family members for better descriptions of clothing types and a female perspective on some of the ‘interactions’ of female characters. There was a fair amount of “who did what” and not enough “she felt what / he felt what” for most women, given what I know of gender preferences in novels. ( It’s hard to make a story both a ‘chick flick’ and a ‘guy adventure’ but worth the effort… ladling on to that the ‘sciency stuff’ too might be a bridge too far… but also worth a try.) I’m not sure I could make the story as compelling without some practice. I tend to slide off into sidebar muses about ‘how stuff works’ and forget to ‘keep the action going’. Playing the emotional symphony is not natural to me. Most of my writing having been technical. But we can all learn new tricks. Given enough time and effort.

It is also worth note that I felt a kindred spirit. What I like to call a ‘mind print’ comes through in how a person writes. It reflects how they think, what kind of person they are, do they keep a tidy mind. IMHO, our styles of thought were more alike than divergent. That’s an encouraging thing.

So I’m going to contemplate some. Probably try a short story or two circulated among family and friends to avoid being too immediately flogged in public ;-) and see what develops.

The Summary

IMHO, the novel does a very nice job of getting into folks minds the basic issues in the Global Warming narrative. The Climategate issues of clear ethical “challenges” came long after the book, so that treatment is light. I suspect were the book being written now, there would be more “Deliberate Malice” and less “Seduction of Belief in Error” in the plot. While the story gets a tiny bit “preachy” at those times, and a little stilted in the plot device, it’s well worked into the story and it is important to development of doubts in the characters. The story would not really work with those parts removed (as the characters would not develop in line with that self discovery…)

I would strongly recommend anyone who had not read it to buy a copy and read it. Then to give copies to “quavering” friends. Those “on the fence” but not willing to spend the time it takes to learn what’s wrong with Global Warming, but willing to read a good novel. I’m planning to circulate my copy through 3 or 4 friends and family…

The novel opens with a bang, in a couple of ways, and has a recurring theme of a mysterious assassin. Perhaps it’s just the afterglow of a good novel and ‘willing suspension of disbelief’, but I find myself now wondering about the deaths of Andrew Breitbart and Michael Crichton (don’t worry, I’m well aware that their ages and causes of death are not at all unusual and that this is just the ‘fiction imagination’ engine still running ;-) Yet political assassination is an ongoing theme in both novels and reality, so…

I suspect that next I need to find a more typical, and perhaps somewhat earlier, novel of his to read. I remember Andromeda Strain (that I read long before seeing the movie) so would need to find some other. And then I would need to find a suitable “muse” along with the discipline to crank out the pages and the courage to take the criticism they would deserve. We’ll see. Perhaps, in the end, just being oneself is a better route than channeling.

Subscribe to feed


About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in AGW and GIStemp Issues, Human Interest and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

35 Responses to State Of Fear – Michael Crichton

  1. Bone Idle says:

    Next. Go and find Frederic Forsyth’s book : The Fourth Protocol.
    There’s some real eye opening researched political facts that were written more than 25 years ago but are very relevant today i.e. methods of encroaching socialism and the take over of government by the left by stealth.
    Plus there’s a very credible thrilling story to go with it.

  2. pouncer says:

    M.C.’s “Next” on the genetic engineering impacts on the near future is good. As is “Congo”. As long as his ‘mind print’ is still warm and shaped in your own.

    Oddly “Jurassic Park'” and sequel aren’t, for me, as compelling. Plus, I expect you’re already too familiar with those concepts.

    I always put in the plug for Lois Bujold. You’d quite like “Falling Free”, I suspect.

  3. omanuel says:

    A Hungarian scientist solved a major mystery in late 1977 but disappeared. I only recently heard of his work.

    Peter Toth, “Is the Sun a pulsar?” Nature 270 (November 1977) 159-160.

    Oliver K. Manuel

  4. NicG. says:

    Hi E.M.
    Interesting you should mention the Andromeda Strain. This is a movie that I had on VHS tape for a number of years that eventually degraded to unwatchable so I bought the DVD (only a fortnight ago). The reason I mention this is because the DVD has a couple of ‘extras’ on it. The first is a ‘making of’ documentary which is not only interesting in itself but also shows Michael Crichton has a cameo role that made it into the movie (he’s in the background of the scene where the doctor has to ‘break scrub’, sitting down and sporting a beard you could hide a badger in). The second is an iterview with MC himself – also interesting. As for ‘next’, have you read any Iain M. Banks?

    Cheers. NicG.

  5. Adrian Vance says:

    I lived in the same neighborhood as Dr. Michael Chricton in the 70’s. I met him once. He was very tall. Your review of his book is more about you than the book. The truth of “global warming” or “climate change” comes down to this:

    CO2 is a “trace gas” in air, insignificant by definition, 1/7th the absorber of IR, heat energy, from sunlight as water vapor which has 80 times as many molecules captures 560 times as much heat making 99.8% of all “global warming.” CO2 does only 0.2% of it.

    Carbon combustion generates 80% of our energy. Control and taxing of carbon would give the elected ruling class more power and money than anything since the Magna Carta of 1215 AD.

    The Two Minute Conservative at for political analysis, science and humor. Daily on Kindle.

  6. Tom Bakewell says:

    I pretty much read anything you write and do so with a lot of gusto. I’d love to read a novel, or even a novella that you might create. Really, you are a gift to the world of willing readers. Your technical writing is as lucid as it can be and your lunges into other areas of interest are always well fleshed out.

  7. R. de Haan says:

    E.M. stop tipping your toe in cold water.
    Just make the jump and get it over with.

    Once you’re in the water all is fine.

    You don’t have to compare yourself with M.C or any other author.

    You’re E.M. Smith and you’re a writer.

    So I hereby order your first book in advance.

  8. mitchel44 says:

    For what it’s worth, I echo R. de Haan, “make the jump”.

    Shameless plug for Greg Bear, he explores some themes that would catch your interest in his Darwin’s Radio/Darwin’s Children.

  9. H.R. says:

    Another vote for “make the jump.” Do something using the March of The Thermometers.

  10. adolfogiurfa says:

    @E.M.: You’re E.M. Smith and you’re a writer.

    So I hereby order your first book in advance.
    Me too.

  11. omanuel says:

    If you can’t do it directly (change the path society is on), perhaps you can begin by writing about the problem.

    If you need reliable science advisors, you will have to recruit from the old USSR system. E.g., V.A. Kotov, “A pulsar inside the Sun?” Radiophysics and Quantum Electronics 39, 811-814 (1996):


  12. Power Grab says:

    What makes something a “chick flick”? Does it have to be like a soap opera? Even though I am a person of the “chick” persuasion, I have always hated soap operas. They always seem to be full of People Behaving Badly, getting themselves into scrapes that cause troubles for others, as well as themselves. Blech! On the other hand, the books of Clive Cussler have always entertained mixed groups well, when read aloud. I like that he throws in a bit of “science” or “science fiction”, as well as a bit of history. I have enjoyed Michener in recent years, although they tend to be large tomes, and you have to stay with them to get the most out of them. My lights-out read right now is, amazingly, “Little Women”. Yes, the classic. I never read it before, even though I was on the literature fast track in high school, and I have always been a reader. After tracking fringe science and controversial non-PC issues all day, I guess it slows me down and helps me get to sleep.

    Beyond that, my kid and I enjoy the series “Bones”. We just finished watched the DVDs for the 6th season. Is that considered a soap opera? There is a lot of time spent in people-issues. I don’t care for all the bedhopping they tend to do from time to time, but the characters are really likeable, and we care about what happens to them. We also like the Indiana Jones movies, the National Treasure movies, Journey to the Center of the Earth, the Back to the Future trilogy. For some reason, if I happen to start up the original Back to the Future DVD, my kid usually drops everything and comes to watch it with me. And it’s so OLD, compared to my kid – amazing that a 15yo could watch it again and again! It’s kind of amazing, too, that it’s held up as well as it has, considering it has almost no special effects – compared to modern movies. We have the Jurassic Park movies, but we don’t watch them again and again. I guess if you’ve seen them take down one dinosaur, you’ve seen them all.

    My kid bought, read, and then sold back the books for the popular vampire series – I have forgotten the name, and I don’t intend to try very hard to remember it. It was wildly popular. My kid didn’t think the movies were true to the books.

    My kid currently spends money on the “Hunger Games” books and wants to see the movie. The whole premise makes me nervous, and I said so. It reminds me of the lifeboat exercise we did in high school, where you have to decide which people are worth keeping alive, and which you would throw out of the boat. Again, blech! My kid said it’s not like that. I guess we’ll see.

    We don’t watch the survivor shows. Every time I’ve tried to sit down and watch one, I’ve become annoyed at how contrived them seem to be. I keep thinking that, if things really got that bad that fast, you would use other criteria to decide who you helped to survive. Now that I think of it, I may have developed that attitude because I’m a 4th generation Okie. We have those tornadoes, you know. When it’s time to take cover, you don’t deliberately decide who to leave outside the shelter! You just make sure there’s no one left on the street and hunker down until it’s over.

    Maybe you could indulge your propensity to write pages and pages about the scientific issues by including an “appendix” of documents the principal character(s) prepared in the course of their work/research.

    I really hold writers in high esteem who are able to write about esoteric subjects for audiences who have not been initiated into the finer points of the discipline (whatever it is).

  13. Judy F. says:


    To write a book you need a good imagination, an interesting story line and the ability to put your ideas into words. It seems to me that you have all those bases covered. Go for it! And I will order a copy of your book too, autographed, please.

    It is interesting that you picked up the differences in white, blue, red versus cream, azure, crimson. Most people wouldn’t. I don’t know if there is a different writing style between men and women, it is just that women tend to be more descriptive. I really haven’t noticed that as being a problem with you, however. :)

    There is a series of books by Jean Auel, about a young girl (an Other) who is orphaned and then raised by the Clan. The Clan is Neanderthal and the books are well researched, although written as a novel. The first book is “Clan of the Cave Bear” and you need to start with it. (The last book in the series was a disappointment.) It is not as scientific in nature as Michael Crichton’s books, but certainly makes a person think about their origins and “what is human”.

  14. adolfogiurfa says:

    Just to start with, publish “The Musings from the Chiefio…The Book!” with all your articles written on this site.

  15. E.M.Smith says:

    Golly, hadn’t expected quite so big a response (blush!)…

    I’ve had a nice long nap… ( I tend to just read through the night when ‘on a roll’… Oddly, I’ll do the same thing when writing. So after finishing the book, wrote the above commentary. Somehow “sleep” is always subject to deferral….) and now find quite a collection of comments. On several threads.

    First off: OK, I’ll take a ‘dip’ into some fiction and see how it goes. (Sorry, but not jumping directly to The Great Novel; it is important to prove a skill level before sinking a year into it. Sharpen the ax, then chop a lot ;-) FWIW, you will likely see some fiction as installments here as a ‘trial run’… ( I have 5 or 6 pages already written in draft ;-)

    Per ‘other recommended reading’: Got it, added to shopping list and gift requests list.

    Per “Channeling M.C.”: Every writer has their own voice, yet good writers can write decent dialog and great writers can write in many voices. The point had been made (R. de Haan?) that with M.C. gone, there was a gaping hole in the market and publishers wishing for an option. My interest was not in being a M.C. clone, but in seeing to what degree my voice was ‘close enough’ to be similarly marketable, or were there things that would ‘need work’ to get there. My conclusion is pretty simple. I can do something close, now, and probably close enough, as our “mind prints” are already similar and the voices have common timbre. With practice and effort, I could write in a voice very much like his. That is an orthogonal question from “Would that be the best way?” or even “Would that be desirable?” and both of those are left for later to decide… But it’s nice to know what the path would be, to try writing an homage style… (There are also legal pluses and minuses. For one thing, if one were to, say, write a ‘sequel’ to State Of Fear using the same characters, there would be only one possible publisher – the rights holder – and a bunch of folks who could all decide “No.”, including family members of M.C. and generally speaking, the more ‘gates’ there are, the less likely a project can succeed. When the most unknown gates come AFTER a year of work, it’s a high risk approach…)

    So my expectation would be to write in my voice, until “good enough” and well known enough to be able to do an Homage and have it un-gated…


    Perhaps a story based on the sudden discovery that the sun was not only a pulsar, but had periodic surprising modes with consequences for earth, and an “I told you so” moment for an Emeritus Researcher who gets sought out to help explain what is to come ;-)


    I use the phrase “Chick Flick” as a stereotype for “Any movie that appeals well to women”.

    My biases, bigotries, and gender impacted brain structure; have forced me to appreciate that what I like in a movie is often not the bits that the spouse, daughter, and a lifetime of ‘dates’ have liked. So I’ve put some amount of ‘brain time’ on keeping track of that (as you do want to appeal to more than 1/2 the market….)

    Guys like action. (Oddly, so do Great Apes – who like watching American Football on TV more than anything else…) Relationships, not so much. So there are many many books and movies and TV series full of “Action” and devoid of depth of character, scene setting, emotional engagement, and introspection. From what I’ve seen, women generally are much more in tune with the importance of relationships (where guys are more ‘transactional’) and with social structure. Similarly, the nature of the scene setting and emotional engagement with symbols tends to be higher. (These are not absolutes, and many folks of each gender enjoy things that are classically of the other style – for example, I love to cook and would spend some time describing things like the mouth feel of the wine or the aroma of the spices in a meal… setting the scene.). Women are generally more sensual / sensorially oriented. So descriptions of the texture of a cloth, or accurate color matter more. ( I.e. “Dark Ash Blond” instead of ‘light brown’ hair…)

    So if you have scenes where “Guy meets girl, guy and girl like each other, they are in bed…” it’s likely written by a guy for guys. Put in some introspection about life, the relationship of these folks to each other, WHY they like each other, and the emotional engagement that leads to heading off to the bedroom, and some sensory details, that’s more of a “chick flick”. As a person of the male persuasion, I’m naturally far more likely to write a ‘guy mode’ work unless I put at least some effort into keeping it interesting for both halves of the human race.

    BTW, I don’t like “soaps” either as they are “all emoting no content”… and the “reality” shows are just crap artificial emoting.

    So my reason for mentioning the ‘chick flick’ aspect is to avoid being stereotypical male in perspective, not write hyper-emotional soaps…

    (As an example, instead of just saying “he was wearing a strong aftershave” specifically say a particular touchstone aroma, like Old Spice… Instead of saying “He had strong features she found attractive” put in some detail “His eyes were large, with strong eyebrows, not bushy, but somehow warm; complimented by a dimple in his masculine chin”. I think that matters, and is often ignored.)

  16. co2fan says:

    I’ve read all of his novels; including the post-mortem Micro, finished by Preston. OK,but missing Michael’s touch.
    My favorite Michael Crichton novel is Timeline, a science fiction book.
    From Wiki: It tells the story of a group of history students who travel to 14th Century France to rescue their professor. The book follows in Crichton’s long history of combining technical details and action in his books, addressing quantum and multiverse theory.

    EM: With your history interest, I think you would like it.

    “Travels” is a nonfiction book by Michael Crichton, autobiographical about his Medical Days (1965-1969) and his Travels (1971-1986).
    Provides insight into what he was all about.

    I was really bummed when he died.


  17. I add my encouragement to all the above.
    “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. ”
    — W. Somerset Maugham

  18. boballab says:


    If you are going to pass that copy around to try and sneak things through you can also point them to the book “Fallen Angels” by Dr. Jerry Pournell, Larry Niven and Michael Flynn. The best thing is they can download the book to an e-reader or read it online for free:


    One minute the two space Hab astronauts were scoop-diving the atmosphere, the next they’d been shot down over the North Dakota Glacier and were the object of a massive manhunt by the United States government.

    That government, dedicated to saving the environment from the evils of technology, had been voted into power because everybody knew that the Green House Effect had to be controlled, whatever the cost. But who would have thought that the cost of ending pollution would include not only total government control of day-to-day life, but the onset of a new Ice Age

    Stranded in the anti-technological heartland of America, paralyzed by Earth’s gravity, the “Angels” had no way back to the Space Habs, the last bastions of high technology and intellectual freedom on or over the Earth. But help was on its way, help from the most unlikely sources ….

    One word of warning: There is alot of inside jokes and references to other Sci/fi works and Sci/fi fandom. A couple examples are:

    1. FIAWOL –
    2. FIJAGH –

  19. Pascvaks says:

    Thoughts –
    Crichton – “Every man’s death deminishes me”, some a lot more than others, MC was one of the some.
    Writing – Why? What? Where? When? How? You already know Who but remember there’s also the ‘Who?’ of the audience too.
    Style – Combine a little Asimov, Christie, Michener, Rolling, sip occassionally, but be yourself.
    Editor – Ask ‘The Boss’ (Herself) to proof and tweek, or make it a joint effort when the fiction gets thick and sweet.
    Copyright – Copyright, Copyright, Copyright

  20. Power Grab says:

    Some more random thoughts:
    1. How are you at writing colloquially? I’m thinking of Mark Twain’s work. That sort of thing does a lot to help me put myself “into the moment.”
    2. Have you ever noticed that most comics display the conflict that occurs when two disparate world views collide? It can be a good source of humor.
    3. I like books/shows that tell me something I don’t already know.
    4. A friend who wrote songs said that his best advice to budding songwriters was to write a song every day. Lots of them might stink, but you eventually end up doing something good.
    5. Please add me to your list of purchasers of the autographed copies.

  21. Verity Jones says:

    To add to the overwhelming response – yes – do it!

    If I may make a suggestion – they say “write about what you know”. You have great observational skills and memory and a good imagination; much as I like your commentaries on technical things and history, climate etc IMHO you are at your absolute best when relating something that happened to you, a conversation, observation, etc. You tell it in a wonderful way, often making it colloquial (Power Grab’s idea) and injecting humour. Some of your anecdotes make me think of Bill Bryson (and I mean to flatter there).

    Off the top of my head a few that have stuck in my mind – your gulf/ocean swim on the drive to Florida; dancing with your boss’s secretary (that was off blog);

    So here’s my suggestion – write what you know – create a semiautobiographical novel or maybe write about a relative. Some things you did do, but also things you wish you had done and know enough about to imagine/write the necessary detail. Plot out a semi-fantasy life for yourself and write about it. Fill it with places you’ve been, people like those you’ve known. Fill it with wonderful meanderings into how stuff works or…

    Semiautobiographical works for many authors – think Kathy Reichs of TV “Bones” fame (although I’ve never actually watched Bones, but the books are great). Anyway just a suggestion.

    Greg Bear – I’ve suggested that one too previously – genetics, neanderthals and punctuated evolution!

  22. Paul Hanlon says:

    @Judy F.

    +1 for Clan of the Cave Bear, and The Valley of Horses, and The Mammoth Hunters, and The Plains of Passage, and The Shelters of Stone.
    I haven’t read the Land of Painted Caves yet, and in order to fully do it justice, I’d have to read the others again.
    In the same way E.M. described wanting to “get inside” Michael Crichton when reading State of Fear, I did with the main character Ayla. They were the last fiction books I read where I was able to do that.

    @E.M., you definitely have the skills in abundance. I’d say the harder task for you is distilling all the things you want to say into a format that people will read. What I will promise is to buy the Hardbook edition (that does pay the most royalties, right? :-) ), whatever it is you decide to write about.

  23. j ferguson says:


    It’s odd that I don’t remember State of Fear as a long book. I think I’ve read all of MC’s books including Travels which seemed to me also fiction although it wasn’t marketed that way. I found his ideas fascinating but his writing not up to the mark. Improbable dialogue and simplified motivations, but still well worth the reading.

    I generally succumb to the story and only notice the mechanics if they are clunky. I made the profound mistake once of buying an edition of “The Name of the Rose” which contained a paper by Eco on writing it; where he came up with the names, Baskerville for one, and some of the other choices. I really wish I’d never read the paper. I much preferred absorbing the tale which was premised on a theory I entertained in school, that humor required sacrilege.

    I’m not certain that standing on other authors’ shoulders is the way to go about this. But if it is,
    Scott Turow seems one of the best light fiction writers working today. His stuff is terse and elegant, his dialogues believable, and there are no leaps required in following his story lines.

    My reaction to reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible was that if this person whom I had never heard of could write this well, maybe i should forget doing anything myself.

    Stephen Coonts’ flying books contain the most believable cockpit conversation I’ve ever read, with the possible exception of some of Ernie Gans’ work. No-one who has sat for hours staring off at the horizon with another pilot after doing the what-ifs could begin to take seriously the stuff that most authors write. This may be an admonition similar to Verity’s to stick to what you know – and you do know a lot so that shouldn’t be confining.

    Nelson DeMille writes stuff I read comfortably although some of his situations verge on the implausible.

    And Neal Stephenson, Zodiac, Cryptonomicon, and the Baroque series does very challenging work. He has serious computing chops and they show. The history embraced in the Baroque series fits well with what i read in Hume’s History of England which took me 18 months to read. Stephenson is really worth the reading, and I would think especially so for someone with your broad range of interests.

    For example, Zodiac has the observation that a hardware store is where you buy things to use for something other than their intended purpose.

    I might add to Woody Allen’s remark that showing up is 85% of success that paying attention is the other 15.

    Do continue with this.

  24. j ferguson says:

    Also Don Westlake. This guy wrote detective novels with interesting ideas, marvelous dialogues, and very few, if any, unnecessary words. He started writing dime novels in the ’50s as well as stories for the old detective magazines. He wrote hundreds. He should be better known.

  25. E.M.Smith says:


    You all have given me about 2 decades worth of reading assignments ;-)

    FWIW, I think where I’ll have the most trouble is writing dialog in individual variant styles. I’m a bit ‘formal and structured’ so it’s hard to do ‘natural informal’ instead of ‘stilted artificial informal’… We’ll see.

    Also, per Verity and the comment about the boss’s Secretary:

    For those who don’t know, it involves a party where folks were getting a bit tipsy, me included, and having been through a few “HR Reeducation Camps”. We’d all been told to treat everyone the same, and it was a sentiment I more or less agreed with.

    I like dancing, and a lot of us at work were dancing. (The crew had worked together for about a half decade, so “we knew each other” and it was a ‘fun’ party, not a ‘hitting on folks’ party). The short form of the story is that all the female folks decided they had to run off to the bathroom together (for reasons only women can explain, they like to flock…) That left me wanting to dance. The only person left was my bosses Secretary. Well, I pondered for a while. Was it appropriate? Was I “up to it”? In the end, I decided that, damn it, I wanted to dance, so I asked him to dance. Yes, him. He was the “Gay Guy” in the group. I was just drunk enough to think: “Well, if I really had the courage of my convictions I’d treat him like all the other ‘girls’…” and it seemed to make sense at the time…

    Long story short: He was a pretty good dancer and it was all OK… right up until the music shifted on the mix tape to ‘slow dancing’. I learned to always shave really well before going out. Stubble feels terrible. I learned that guys are much too ‘solid’ for my liking (women are softer in all the right places and have a skin texture that’s more agreeable) and I learned I was at no risk of ever being a ‘gay guy’… We also ended up with The Gay Guy in the group telling all his friends that for the first time ever he felt “just like everyone else – accepted as just one of the group”. I was very happy that as a known ‘straight’ I could “make his day” with a feeling of acceptance. I was also very happy when the “girls” came back from the powder room… even if they did look a bit surprised at the scene on the dance floor ;-)

    Just didn’t want y’all thinking I was hitting on the Boss’s Secretary… that would be just wrong… ;-)

  26. j ferguson says:

    Bravo E.M. re: dancing with the secretary. A great story.

    In terms of efficiency, Westlake’s books are short. Our living conditions prevent book accumulation, so I can’t point to a specific one but the Dortmunder series would be worth the reading. They have a very subtle tinge of Sid Caesar humor.

    You might also find them inspirational. You might think that you can write that sort of stuff too. I know i did.

    For example.

    In 1966, I worked at a Chicago architecture firm across from the Art Institute. I was dating a girl who worked for another Michigan Avenue architectural firm located in a loft formerly occupied by Louis Sullivan a bit up the street.

    We’d eat lunch together at the Art Institute.

    I’d pick her up in her office, not entirely out of courtesy but because i liked some of the guys she worked with. We would ride down the 20 or so stories in the ancient elevators.

    I was thoughtless in those days. Rude might be more apt. We would discuss various things on the ride down. One discussion aroused the interest of two of our fellow riders and they followed us out the door and a bit down the street to hear the whole thing. I didn’t realize this had happened but she did.

    So we thought it would be fun to invent stories and see what would happen.

    One was:

    “They called. It’s done.”
    “About 10:30.”
    “Did they get the sod down?”
    “They had to do a bigger area than we discussed so that it wouldn’t be so obvious.”
    “How deep?”
    “About four feet.”
    “Why do they usually do six feet?”
    “I think that’s the law, which clearly wouldn’t apply here?”
    “But isn’t if for disease control or something like that?”
    “I don’t know.”
    “Do you think the neighbors will figure this out?”
    “No. She hadn’t been outside in 10 years and I doubt if anyone knew she was
    still alive.”

    And with that the door opened at street level, we got out, changed the subject and were followed about half a block by a small group who we imagined must have wondered what that was about. We never told.

    I used to think there could be a book of elevator stories, but then the concept was applied to the suggestion that a sales pitch be edited to fit an elevator trip, and I thought it would look too derivative. I have collected the stories though.

  27. M Simon says:

    They are also running a parallel track – depending on which “side” predominates.

    Reminder: it is not a left/right battle.

  28. Verity Jones says:

    @j ferguson,
    Wonderful! Half heard snippets can really grab you!

    Just as good in the retelling. I was going to apologise for making you share it, but I think I have no need to. I did nearly write it another way, as in “dancing with that male secretary” but i thought that would need explanation whereas “dancing with your bosses secretary” doesn’t necessarily mean ‘hitting on’ her (or him).

    If you were to write about that ‘scene’ you would need the internal dialogue “Should I? ……. Oh heck why not?” to make it really work, and could only do it if your chosen style has a narrator or first person narrative or something that would allow that internal dilemma.

    Re stilted dialogue – if you know your characters well and have them say what they need to say ‘in character’ in the scene as you run through it in your head, perhaps it would work better… thinking “how would he have said that?”.

    I suppose anyway. I have tried the odd bit of writing, managing a few pages, but always running into issues with the style chosen, or dialogue, so while I am not the expert and probably not the problem to be giving advice, I have thought about such issues a lot and will do it some day. Actually I have a great story to tell, but I think it should go straight to a screenplay. Also it hasn’t totally played out yet and there are a few characters I have yet to meet (although I know their important place in the story).

  29. omanuel says:

    FEAR and an ill-advised decision to control “nuclear fire” is the root of the climate scandal and the demise of society:

    Professor Paul K. Kuroda (1917-2001) provided the training that enabled me to grasp: “Neutron Repulsion” as the fountain of energy that sustains human life as a part of the Great Reality from the centers of
    a.) Heavy atoms (A > 150 amu),
    b.) Fluid planets like Jupiter,
    c.) Sun-like stars, and
    d.) Galaxies,
    before the Cosmos collapses again, to take its next breath as ”God”, “Reality”, “What Is” !

    Kuroda, the nuclear scientist sent from the Imperial University of Tokyo to investigate the man-made “nuclear fire” that consumed Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, may have grasped Reality at that time!

    In 1956 he tried to explain that “nuclear fire’s” occurred spontaneously on Earth for billions of years, but world leaders and leaders of the scientific community refused to hear.

    They were frightened by “nuclear fire” and wanted to control, rather than to admit powerlessness over, the force that creates and destroys the chemical elements and powers “The Great Reality” that surrounds and sustains us.

    In short, FEARpersuaded them “to play God”themselves.

    That is the root of society’s current demise !

    Kuroda continued trying to get out the message for the rest of his life.,

    His autobiography is a pleasant way to learn about life at the Imperial University of Tokyo during WWII:

    Current leaders of the US scientific community, Ralph Cicerone, John Holdren, Steven Chu, and Lisa Jackson and Charles Bolden – are now trapped with the rest of us, like rats on a sinking ship, because their predecessors were frightened by the “nuclear fire” that consumed Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and then threatened to destroy the rest of the Earth in the Cuban Missile crisis of late October 1962.

    Climategate is coming to a close. May we find the wisdom to work together to undo the damage society suffered and not get sidetracked trying to punish those who led society to its current demise out of fear of the “nuclear fires” over Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945!

  30. Wayne Job says:

    EM just bite the bullet and WRITE A FFFING BOOK we would all be grateful. Wayne from very far down under.

  31. E.M.Smith says:


    Well, I’m already started on it. Doing the “warm ups” here as a posting series while the ‘gallies’ will get final edits via the spouse. Oh, and I’ve started on a non-fiction one about temperatures which is a synthesis of a load of the postings here. Lack of crowing does not constitute lack of action (though frequent and loud crowing often dose constitute inaction ;-)

  32. omanuel says:

    @E.M.Smith, 26 March 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks, E.M.

    I started writing “My Journey to the Core of the Sun” several years ago but was distracted by Climategate emails and documents released in 2009 and by responses from leaders of nations, scientific organizations, research journals and the news media.

    Then I realized that this was the same crowd of frightened bullies that tried to block every step of “My Journey to the Core of the Sun.”

    So I set aside writing the book, and have started following your example:

    Posting information on my own blog to show that the hallowed halls of modern physics were rebuilt at the end of World War II, out of fear of “nuclear fires” that consumed Hiroshima about sixty-six years ago.

    Fortunately my research mentor was the Japanese scientist, Dr. Kazuo Kuroda, sent from the Imperial University of Tokyo to investigate the “nuclear fire” that consumed Hiroshima on 6 August 1945, fifteen years before I started research with him in 1960!

    Tonight all is well,

  33. j ferguson says:

    One other thing, ah…, er…., two. Later Westlake seems better than earlier. He got better. There are a couple of his science fiction efforts on Gutenberg and they are not nearly as good as the later books.

    I’ve recently become obsessed with the 10k hours. The idea is that real skill is only reached by spending the time. Musicians that can really cut it will have spent 10,000 hours perfecting their art. This seems to apply to many other skills as well, but may not apply to writing.

    My Dad proved that 10k hours without world-class talent wouldn’t do the trick. He took up clarinet at the age of 7 and before long was practicing first six and then 8 hours a day split between morning and evening. He apparently got good enough soon enough that he wasn’t troubling to listen to, but… (And I guess this is where I start to speculate about the dispersion of a small group of people who violently hate clarinet music — his neighbors of the time)

    He started playing in swing bands in the early thirties while still a teenager and frequently played pick-up when the big tour bands came to Minneapolis.

    He wanted to make a career in it. His dad said that he would support this only if his talent would put him in the top five reedmen in the country. He found something that Artie Shaw could do and spent a Summer trying to play it – never could. So he went to engine school and became an electrical engineer, but still played gigs wednesday and saturday nights, and after retirement 3 jobs a week for another 25 years.

    He was very very good, but not one of the top 5.

    The above is in support of having at it. write, write, write.

  34. p.g.sharrow says:

    @j ferguson says: 10k hours EH! Must be the reason I am so good with a Mexican backhoe, even at my advanced age. ;-) pg

  35. adolfogiurfa says:

    @P.G.: “The Devil knows more because he is old than because he is the Devil”.

Comments are closed.