Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A book look

One of the books I picked up for a very reasonable price at the used bookstore in San Diego was The Terminal Man, by Michael Crichton, and I finished it this afternoon.
I had read this years ago--he's one of my favorite authors, and I've read all of his books--but it was fun to revisit it. In a nutshell, it's a story about attempting to control seizures and violent tendencies in a man by using computer-controlled stimulation via electrodes implanted in his brain. As you can imagine, things go horribly wrong. It's the usual medical thriller that Crichton does very well. (I suppose it helps being a doctor and all.)
What was kind of funny to me in this book, though, is how quickly things can change in about 35 years. This book was originally published in 1972, and while a good read, there are some rather obvious statements that Crichton was attempting to make. As he progressed as a writer, he got much more adept at doing this. The female doctor is hurt and angry at the sexual discrimination she faces and tries to come to terms with some vague father issues; another doctor lectures reporters on the problems with violence in the country, and discusses the issue of "mind control." He asks the reporters, "What do you call compulsory education through high school?"
There were two glaring anachronisms. Computers play a big part in this novel, and we all know the changes that have taken place in 35 years when it comes to that! Computers are seen here as a somewhat unknown entity, encroaching upon mankind's worldly dominance. The "terminal man" in the title is a computer expert working on Department of Defense projects; his paranoia about computers changes to a full-blown psychosis that computers are trying to take him--and the world--over. The descriptions of the CRT terminals, the printers, the tape all seems oddly quaint now! I wonder if Crichton ever envisioned J-Land and the blogging community in general, or that someone like me would be writing about his "quaint" computer descriptions 35 years after he published his book? Doubtful!
The big one, though, is SMOKING. Most of the action takes place in a university hospital, and lots of people are smoking! In the hospital! One of the doctors quit two years ago, but he's smoking like a chimney again. People are smoking in the control room as they try to figure out what is wrong with the patient. Ashtrays are overflowing! It is incredible to read in the light of today's atmosphere, in a country where more and more smoking bans are taking place, and where most hospitals have been smoke-free for at least 5 years. I know it used to be possible to smoke in hospitals, because at my first job, in North Dakota, we could smoke in the cafeteria, and in offices. The director of Microbiology, Gordon, smoked, and I'd sit in his office and chat as we both lit up. I look back at that now, and I can hardly believe it! Ugh, it's kind of repulsive. Talk about the antithesis of the healing hospital!
Although this book isn't all that old, just these two obvious changes show the difference a few decades can make, and the significant modifications our world has experienced.
It's not time yet for our book club book for September (Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie), so I have plenty of time for another book. Hmmm, decisions, decisions! Actually, before I do that, I need to catch up on Time. I'm a couple behind. I'm accumulating quite a stack of magazines again. <sigh> I guess I need to work on those.


buckoclown said...

1972 era, wow.  Back then, PC's were not even an inkling in anyone's eye.  I remember in college how we were still using fortran and punch cards.  We got the first PC and we all laughed and said "this will never take off."  What a difference a few decades makes.

As far as smoking, so glad we had the mindset and discipline to quit :o)

gen0507 said...

My MIL likes to read Michael Crichton too.  I'm a hopeless romantic.  I like reading Sandra Brown & Nora Roberts.


minstrel312 said...

Beth, loved your review of Crichton and agree totally.  I just finished Michener's Chesapeake and last night, Tony Hillerman's The Wailing Wind.  I love Hillerman's incredibe simplicity of language and the images he so easily evokes.  His characterizations are also a delight and his plotting is just ingenious enough to intrigue me without making me feel stupid that I didn't get it fast enough. I've learned a lot about Southwest Native American culture from him.  Again, great review.  Rusty Miller

queeniemart said...

i have never heard of this book....and have only read a few of his books....i do know he sure is popular....glad you enjoyed the book.

carouselqueen70 said...

I have never read that book. I am not into that kind of book. I like more non fiction books and very calm drama. But U nught try it out...hugs, Christine