on June 18, 2003
Airframe, like many other Michael Crichton novels, deals with the impact of technology on society. In airframe, however, the perils of technology actually derive from the impact of television media, while being informative and maybe a little condescending about the wisdom and perils of modern air travel. Also like his other novels, Airframe has a fairly likeable protagonist (this time, a female by the name of Casey Singleton), a suspenseful plot yanked along by a looming deadline, high technology, a seemingly greedy and/or malevolent big business, a huge business decision that would make or break everyone, and a cast of seemingly moronic second tier characters.
Actually Airframe resembles Disclosure in many ways (except the whole sexual harassment thing), which is not necessarily a bad thing, though is somewhat predictable ï¿½ youï¿½ll find that in portions of the novel apparently nothing ever really happens, and the investigation really goes nowhere (to the exasperation of one of the characters).
Still, Mr. Crichton maintains more than what is needed to keep the reader to not stop turning the pages. The plot, which occurs early on a Monday morning, involves a passenger aircraft over the Pacific that has an ï¿½incident,ï¿½ for lack of a better term. Several people end up dying, and many more are injured. Norton Aircraft manufactures the aircraft, where Casey Singleton is the Quality Assurance representative for the companyï¿½s Incident Response Team - responsible for figuring out what happens on any kind of incidents regarding Norton planes. The incident needs to be resolved by the coming Friday, as there is talk of a company-making (or breaking) deal with China to be solidified since then. Any bad publicity could kill the deal.
The story quickly goes into the fast-paced investigative mode as Casey and the various members of the Incident Response Team first unravel, than uncover why the aircraft did what it did and the discrepancies in crew testimony. Along the way Mr. Crichton, through a convenient new assistant, lays out the concept of aircraft and safety, the FAA, deregulation, media ignorance, black boxes, accident investigation, and practically everything else you wanted to know.
By the middle of the week a television news magazine similar to 60 Minutes jumps on the story when a video taken by a passenger during the incident suddenly airs on CNN. The producer, who builds, researches, and pushes the stories in television news organizations, is a young up-and-coming woman who right off the bat comes off as one of Mr. Crichtonï¿½s antagonist morons (Caseyï¿½s assistant, anti-Norton ï¿½watchdogs,ï¿½ various Norton executives, and all kinds of union workers are the others) that you wouldnï¿½t mind slapping after five minutes of conversation. Of course, the media practically gets everything wrong, through which Casey has to patiently explain everything (to the reader), as the investigation builds to ï¿½ well, not a whole lot as it turns out ï¿½ and then the mystery is uncovered through a semi-dramatic ending.
Itï¿½s as if Mr. Crichton didnï¿½t really know how to end the book, and once you understand the cause behind the incident, youï¿½d think thereï¿½s no way it could have been like that. Unfortunately, aircraft accidents have happened in much simpler ways, but you wish that Mr. Crichton could have been a little more inventive. There arenï¿½t too many interesting characters, and the rest are unsympathetic at best. I find it hard to believe union workers would act like that, but again I suppose there is precedent.
Airframe is a good book that uses Mr. Crichtonï¿½s patented dramatic pacing and technology (media) gone amok, but really concludes weakly, though it pretty much solves everything ï¿½ just like Disclosure. Is that good or bad?
on April 29, 2003
I am constantly amazed by the breadth of Michael Crichton 's interests and by his remarkable skill in researching his subjects. I also find his indirectly expressed issues of more than passing significance. In Jurassic Park the issue is the arrogance of science in its manipulation of nature and the tendency of Western science to eschew accountability for the spillover costs to society when things go wrong. Airframe is another example of it. Here the issue of the freedom of speech and the lack of accountability of the media, particularly television news, is explored. In a society that has come to stress individual rights, little emphasis has been placed on individual responsibility. In order to be a functional culture, there has to be a balance of both rights and responsibilities. Airframe makes this abundantly clear.
As so often with Crichton's central characters, a uniquely placed individual must come to grips with the inherent difficulties of fighting an uphill battle against society's inertia. The heroine, Casey Singleton, is given the task of deciding how a disasterous air accident happened before a crucial business deal collapses and takes the company she works for and all of its employees down with it. It is by no means clear what is taking place, and ultimately she must come to trust her own personal interpretation of events to bring things to a head.
The detail is impressive. The characters are well developed and real. The story is riveting and fast paced. A thoroughly enjoyable book.
on March 13, 2003
Crichton has always excelled at mixing his intense research into often mysterious subjects with dramatic, even melodramatic, plots. ANDROMEDA STRAIN told us more about germs and stuff than we wanted to know, but it was gripping. JURASSIC PARK told us a bit more about dinosaurs and stuff than we needed, but it was a good, old-fashioned monster show. DISCLOSURE probably delved more into specifics of harassment law than we needed to enjoy the book, but that gave it an authentic, journalistic edge.
In AIRFRAME, I'm sorry to say, the jargon is almost all there is. After an exciting opening chapter, it takes almost the entire book for anything of true interest to happen. We follow Casey, our lead character, from one meeting after another with a bunch of faceless engineers who are going over the plane that was involved in a mishap, trying to find the cause. Once in awhile, her life is in jeopardy, but Crichton writes the technical jargon with the same intensity, speed and emphasis that he does the plot twists, so that the entire book feels the same. It's not a plot peppered with authentic detail...it's a textbook occasionally lightened with some fiction.
Crichton is not the greatest writer (from a literary standpoint) anyway, but his books are so cinematic and crammed with plot that you can still burn through and feel entertained with ease. AIRFRAME is an exception...a clunky book that never takes flight.
on February 23, 2003
I am a huge Michael Crichton fan. I love his books more than any others and once I pick them up, I cant put them down. Im sorry that I cant say that about this novel. It was terrible.
This is a very different kind of book than other Crichton novels, and maybe that is why I couldnt get into it. I felt that it was dry, and un interesting. If you are into planes, then maybe this book will be for you, mainly because of all the technical info about aircrafts. But this is more of a book about an investigation of a plan that almost crashes. I got half way through the book and stopped reading it. I just made me want to go to sleep. Boring Boring Boring. I didnt want to put it down, just because i know that Crichton is always full of surpises. But if i got halfway through the book with none yet, then I didnt think anything special was coming up.
As I said before, I didnt like this book at all, but some may be into this kind of stuff. If so, feel free to pick it up, but for all that are bored by investigations that dont have any thrill to them, pass this book up.
on December 7, 2002
Crichton at his best gives us a mix of brilliant technological insight set in an atmosphere of almost suffocating paranoia; one thinks of scientists racing against the clock against a killer ET virus (The Andromeda Strain) or dinosaur cloners who are hunted down by their own creations. This is not Crichton at his best. The paranoia is definitely there, as always, the heroes seem to be at the mercy of dark forces lurking in the shadows, but the technology part simply doesn't measure up. Crichton's understanding of both the aircraft industry and the basic rules of aeronautical engineering are sorely lacking, and it shows, especially in the downright ludicrous "resolution" at the end, in which a team of engineers and a test pilot come up with a completely ridiculous explanation for a plane losing control in flight. It may sound like nit picking, after all, most people who read this won't know about the technical details and probably won't care, nonetheless, Crichton has established a rep for being a master of detail, especially on technology, so this book looks as sloppy as if Tom Clancy tried to pass off a B-52 as being "stealthy".
on November 4, 2002
A good book must include many literary devices, to keep the readers attention and interests in a book. These devices must be used to end up with a good book as the finished product. In Michael Crichton's Airframe, like many of Crichton's other works, it seems as if he gets interested in a topic and says this will make a good book, disregarding most literary and writing devices. In this book Crichton dazzles the reader with superfluous details of the Aircraft industry, but he forgets the use of all-literary terms, but possibly imagery and tone. Crichton lays the story and characters out forgetting character and story development, theme, and nearly all plot structure. The only device he uses well is imagery, and he goes to great extents to use this. Airframe is filled with detail and imagery that makes the reader feel as if they are in the hanger with Casey going through the fuselage checking every wing panel and frame board, but again that's all the story has. This story has cookie cutter characters that don't develop, and are only described in vast detail, and not thought out in the least and a plot that is transparent, and is predictable from nearly the title of the story. The story suffers much from the lack of these key components, but makes up for it somewhat with the meticulous details and tidbits. Tone in most cases, should be used to help the reader better understand the novel, like most literary devices, however tone in this story is negligible, or having a negative affect. The tone in this story is one that you might call casual or informal. This tone doesn't change anything about the other literary devices, but again helping with the descriptions and imagery. Overall this book is lacking many of the devices it needs to be a compelling, well written novel, and instead is a mere thriller that might help one understand more about the aircraft industry along with its people.
on July 31, 2002
I've read a number of novels by Michael Crichton, and he really does his research, making somewhat complex subjects understandable to most readers. Whether it's cloning and dinosaurs ("Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World"), sexual harassment ("Disclosure"), or even quantum physics ("Timeline"), he can really hold your attention while you learn a thing or two. Too bad he can't come up with a well thought out plot to go with any of his "topics du jour".
"Airframe" is a good example of this. As a result of reading this novel, I know more than I ever would about the building of airplanes, the operation of airlines, and how well (or badly) commercial airliners are maintained. Crichton also gives us a glimpse of how the FAA and its European equivalent, the JAA, operate, especially in the post regulation climate that we live in. If you read this book before taking your next flight, you may end up wanting to drive or ask if you can store a parachute in the overhead compartment.
Casey Singleton is the Vice President of Quality Assurance for Norton Airplanes, a builder of commercial jets. One of the Norton planes encounters a serious problem in flight resulting in several deaths and a number of injuries. Casey is named to the team investigating this occurrence. In addition to her seeming role as a one woman investigator of the incident, or at least the only one with a clue of what to do, she is appointed to be the person talking to the media, even though the company has people whose job this is.
What Casey doesn't know is there are sharks in the water. She is surrounded by evil executives, evil co-workers, evil union types, and that old stand by, the evil media, this time in the person of a story producer for a national, "60 Minutes" type, TV news magazine. People are out to destroy her professionally and personally or otherwise advance their interests or their careers. With all of this going on around her, there's only one thing she can do.
Run, Casey Run!
And she does. She runs here, and she runs there. She runs all over the Norton plant. She dodges one group of stalkers by climbing down a cable. Another group throws her off the ill fated airliner, now in a Norton hanger for testing, but fortunately she lands in some netting. (Whew! That was close.) Clues indicating that nothing is what it appears to be just drop into her lap, but it takes her awhile to put them together. (Well, long enough for Crichton to have typed a sufficient number of words to put "Airframe" out as a novel.)
Then there are the coincidences. One character's has an evil plan to get control of and then wreck the company. Fortunately for this person, the airliner event happens through a series of freak occurrences, too silly to have been planned, right when he's about to make his move. Then a second, non-fatal incident involving the same airplane model happens THE VERY NEXT DAY. (How's that for timing?) Then, Al Pacino (no, really) walks out on an interview for the TV news magazine, and, in desperate need of a new story, the producer gets wind of the problems at Norton. If that's not enough, the producer, only caring about making a big ratings splash, chooses to completely ignore the fact that most of her sources are clearly lying to her, not credible, or pushing their own agendas, while she dismisses factual information that contradicts the story she wants to tell. Wow, the main villain couldn't have planned it better. (And trust me, little that happens here is planned by anyone. Everything just seems to happen on its own.)
I did like the Casey Singleton character. She is bright, imaginative, and courageous. She has to be. She has been set up to "take the fall". In the end she outsmarts everyone, saving her job and the company. She almost saves this mess as well, but that would have been too much to ask of anyone.
I realize that Crichton is a very popular and successful writer. However, "Airframe" is not a very well thought out novel. I knew what was going to happen long before it did and the cause of the original incident was so obvious by the middle of the book that I almost didn't feel the need to finish it.
Finally, the use of a series of coincidences as a means to advance the plot is a symptom of lazy writing. It strikes me as odd that Crichton clearly put so much time and effort into researching the airplane industry and so little into creating a story that follows a logical series of events.
on February 26, 2002
Admittedly, I was dismayed at the storyline for Airframe. Having read and been hooked on other Crichtons such as The Lost World, Jurassic Park, and Timeline, I found Airframe to be one of his lesser works of fiction.
As usual, Crichton backs up his story with scientific gobbledegook. If he doesn't thoroughly research his topic before writing it, he does an excellent job of making things up from what he already knows. Airframe is no different; it contains a plethora of technical terms, most likely in regular use within the aerospace industry.
I found the book frustrating, in much the way as one finds with an Agatha Christie novel: the plot is shrouded in mystery because one simple fact is concealed until the final stages of the book. There were also doubtful segments in the book, things that would never occur in real life. For example, the "common workers," the engineers in Norton aircraft factory, seem to want to murder a senior member of staff (Casey Singleton, the hero of the story). In fact, she knows about their dramatic tendencies even before they are focused on her. Like anyone would stay in a job like that!
Despite these shortfalls, the book is entertaining, and had me gripped for some long nights, albeit to find out what the final mystery was (don't worry - I won't spoil it). And, as usual, the scientific side is well explained to the average-intelligence human being!
But in the words of Simon Callow, "a distinctly average performance" by a superb author. Better luck next time, Mike.
on February 16, 2002
This is my first Michael Crichton novel. At first, I hated it. At the beginning, I found his style too slow moving for my taste. Nothing seems to happen. Yet, Crichton is a crafty writer. Reading AIRFRAME is like putting together a fascinating puzzle. It starts slow but builds and builds and builds to the point of supersonic speed and intrigue. He teases the reader to continue to read with mere tidbits of unrevealed clues - then he slaps the reader in the face. Everything is laid out for the reader, but I missed it. That's what makes this a great novel - the element of surprise.
Crichton's characters are also vivid. In my experience, character development is the most complex and difficult task for a writer. Crichton's mastery of the English language enables the reader to feel that the characters are real rather than fiction. The pace in describing the main characters demonstrates his crafty writing skill. His style produces a rare kind of realism that pushes the reader on the edge of the chair. The vividness of being chased and falling are so genuine, one feels like one is watching a film rather than reading a book.
Lastly, and this will not spoil the plot, the story line can be found in the title. Yet, I doubt that most readers will be able to put it all together until the last chapter.
on January 15, 2002
I don't know if it's just me, but the older books by Michael Crichton were just so much better than the last few he's written (Full Disclosure, Rising Sun and this one). Michael Crichton is known as one of the greatest writers of speculative fiction working today. He is a wizard at taking a group of people (usually experts in one scientific field or another) and isolating them in extreme conditions, and letting them either solve a mystery (as in Congo, Sphere and the Andromeda Strain) or simply survive (as in Jurassic Park and the Lost World).
With his last several books, however, the author seems to have deliberately strayed away from writing stories with an adventurous, science-fiction feel. Instead, he has begun to write things like detective stories, legal mysteries, and now this book about the investigation of an airline disaster.
While Michael Crichton's worst writing is much better than most writing out there today, the problem is that he can do much better. In this story, an airplane almost crashes, and the airline investigator is trying to figure out what happened, all the time being hassled by a impending strike of the airline workers (which was a very contrived element to this story, in my opinion, written in just to provide a bit of suspense). All that's certain is that no one is telling the truth, and the story isn't what it first appears to be.
The investigation moves forward in a satisfying way, though the unnecessary interruptions from the striking workers were a distraction that I didn't enjoy. The mystery seems interesting enough, though the solution to it isn't due so much to the diligence of the investigators as a lucky coincidence that solves everything.
While I was reading this book, I don't remember thinking that it was a bad book. But after I finished, I distinctly remember thinking 'this is it?'. Let's face it, Michael Crichton can do a lot better (witness Congo, the Andromeda Strain, and Sphere). In this book, we get a chance to see what happens when a fantastic author decides that he wants to publish a book, but he doesn't want to work really hard to come up with a great story, or do much real work to live up to his past triumphs.
I wish I could say that this was as good as the other books he's come out with, but it isn't. However, if this is the only book of his that you've read and you're unsure of whether you should read another of his, take my word for it. Read Timeline, The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, and Congo.
Like me, you'll be hooked.