Monday, February 15, 2010

Michael Crichton Lite

I was recently manipulated by a friend into reading MEG by Steve Alten. I didn't have high hopes, but 
decided to give it a shot since it was a bestseller, and if the reviews mean anything, a lot of people really like this book.

The premise, a 60-foot prehistoric shark is unleashed upon our modern day oceans, is the book's greatest strength. That's why I picked it up, so credit Alten for realizing a great "what if" concept.

A former hot shot underwater submersible pilot, Dr. Jonas Taylor is haunted by an accident that occured eight years earlier while exploring the Marianas Trench that left two men dead. Believing he saw a Carcharodon Megalodon, Taylor becomes a paleobiologist, osbsessed with the study of the ancient shark. After another accident in the trench, Taylor is lured back into the depths by an old friend to investigate.

And of course, they find the giant shark who is able to survive because of a warm water layer (heated by thermal vents) at the bottom of the trench. Six miles of freezing water keep the sharks safely beyond the reach of the surface, but through a highly unlikely sequence of events, a Megalodon escapes to wreak havoc on the high seas.

After the concept, the story itself is the book's next best asset. It moves quickly through a mostly satisfying plot involving the location and capture/killing of the giant shark. Unfortunately, the promise of the story is squandered by amateurish writing with predictable (bordering on cartoonish) characters and dialogue. And while the author does a decent job making the premise seem possible, the story begins to come off the rails as one supremely implausbile event follows another. The shark rises up sixty feet in the air to attack a helicopter. The Megalodon disables and sinks a submarine. The Meg also has more sensors than the U.S.S. Enterprise as it is apparently capable of hearing a whale heartbeat from hundreds of miles away. This stuff goes on and on and had me rolling my eyes very quickly. Alten reminds me of a much less talented Michael Crichton. But whereas Crichton made science a character in itself, Alten only uses it as tool to try and keep his ideas afloat.

The other problem with the book is that it's not scary. To me, a giant prehistoric shark roaming the ocean should be terrifying, but Alten writes this as more of an action movie (in fact, that's exactly how it reads). And his characters are so shallow, you don't care about them enough to be affected when they are eaten. On the other hand, if you're looking for a really quick, action-packed read about a prehistoric shark, this is your book.

Note: I found out after reading this book that Alten is a big 9/11 "truther." His book "The Shell Game" is Alten's fictional, but allegorical take on Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, so he may have intended MEG as a nonfiction book.


James Wood said...

Why bother reading the book when you can watch the movie:

Jason Campbell said...

Let the record show there was no manipulation in you're reading of this book. All I did was point it out, knowing that it would be impossible for you to refuse a book about a giant shark.

Even if it is an allegory of the Bush administration's ties to prehistoric secret societies. No wonder Hollywood bought the movie rights...

Jake Shore said...

James, thank you for that awesome link. Casting Lorenzo Lamas and Debbie Gibson is pure genius. The book is only slightly less ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

They run a clip from that movie all the time on The Soup.

And I could see how showing Jake a book with a big shark on the cover could be construed as manipulation. Jason, you know Jake well enough to know that he would be powerless to resist. And don't anyone even try to tell me that this book, when made into a movie, will be any better than Deep Blue Sea. That is my current favorite stupid shark movie. That is until they make Sharks On A Plane.