“Propaganda” and the Novel — on Michael Crichton’s State of Fear

Poorly done propaganda novel

by M. Cooper

There’s nothing wrong with a “propaganda novel” — a work of fiction intended to influence the reader in a political sense. In fact, propaganda novels have a long and honorable traditions, with some prime example being Hemingway’s _For Whom the Bell Tolls_ and Malraux’s _Man’s Fate_. But, and here’s the kicker, the propaganda novel must also work as a novel, with plot and characterization.

State of Fear is a disappointment. Cardboard characters and an unconvincing Swiss-cheese plot interspersed with footnotes, graphs, and documentation. Crichton could have done better. In fact, Crichton *has* done better. But, this time, his agenda seems to have gotten the better of him.

By the way, the graph on page 468 (of the paperback edition) is a cheat. It’s a bar chart of hurricane strikes decade by decade. Only the final bar doesn’t represent a decade, but only three years. And, it omits the very active hurricane seasons of 2005 and 2005. The result is misleading . . . deliberately? Readers of this book would be well advised to pick up a copy of Darrell Huff’s book, _How to Lie With Statistics_.

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