Thursday, December 23, 2004

Conspiracy Theories 

OK, I'm slumming: I'm reading Michael Crichton's State of Fear. It's fast, easy reading, a no-brainer in the manner of a Hollywood summer blockbuster. I've been following Crichton on and off ever since I read The Andromeda Strain two or three times back in the '70s, though none of his books since then have impressed me as much. Something about the way he info-dumps computer print-outs, diagrams, graphs, etc., into the text gives his books a certain authority, not to mention geek appeal, despite the formula plots and cardboard characters.

The new book's premise is provacative -- that global warming is a conspiracy among the media and a band of eco-terrorists -- something that sounds more like a novelist's contrarian plot-device than a thesis the author expects you to believe, despite the footnotes and bibliography that Crichton provides. Yet, whatever benefit of the doubt I was willing to allow him was considerably diminished by the first page of the introduction, in which Crichton cites a lawsuit planned by the island nation of "Vanutu" as inspiration for the book. Trouble is, the name of that island nation is Vanuatu, not Vanutu; look it up. Crichton spells it wrong throughout the book. So why should we believe anything else he claims?

Then again... The trouble with most conspiracy theories is that for them to work, people would have to be a lot smarter, and luckier, than most people are in real life. If, for example, a group of eco-terrorists are clever enough to (for example) stage a series of ecological catastrophes in time with a conference about "abrupt climate change", well, why aren't they clever enough to prevent the publication of a bestselling novel about them, exposing their plot?

But I think I've figured it out. These conspirators are subtle; they are very smart. Instead of suppressing the novel exposing their plot, they've obviously manipulated the manuscript at some point in the publication process (they are of course very sneaky and high tech) in order to distort a few data points in the text (the location of Pismo Beach being another) so that knowledge readers who might otherwise find the book persuasive would smirk at the errors and dismiss the whole crazy notion. Yet what is the alternative? Allow Crichton's airtight case exposure to the world? I think not. The conspirators are too clever for their own good -- they've only apparently undermined Crichton's conspiracy theory. The flaws in the book prove its case!

Once you start spinning conspiracy theories, there's no end to it.
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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