Airframe by Michael Crichton

When I read Airframe, what struck me most, apart from the author’s finely honed ability to build and sustain tension, was how outdated 90s communication technology seemed. Beepers, CD players, video recorders that use tape, faxes, landline telephones, television screens that aren’t flat… and what the heck is a telex, anyway?

More thoughts on this un-put-down-able techno-thriller below.

Speaking of communication, one of Crichton’s characters says television (even when purporting to be factual) has no real information content:

“A lot of people complain that television lacks focus. But that’s the nature of the medium. Television’s not about information at all. Information is active, engaging. Television is passive. Information is disinterested, objective. Television is emotional. It’s entertainment.” (345)

It’s hard not to attribute that view to the author. He’s written for television, so he should know. Then, too, novels are pretty emotional and entertaining, his included! Crichton was a med-school student, but never a journalist, though his novels come across to me as technically well-researched as well as engaging.

This thriller, which on the surface is about some kind of deadly aircraft malfunction, incorporates a powerful struggle between two bad alternatives: the protagonist must choose to share the truth—which will be misunderstood and misused—or to lie, risking worse consequences but perhaps suffering none at all. Will integrity serve her well, or is telling the truth overrated? She doesn’t even know for sure what caused the aircraft malfunction! The clock is ticking—she doesn’t have time to figure it out.

If she survives the debacle, she’ll get a promotion and a twenty-percent raise, and can pay for a better education for her daughter; the company, and thousands of American jobs, will be saved. Now, though, her very life is under threat from union tough guys. That’s every kind of stakes there is! Don’t you want to know what happens?

I really wish they’d make a movie so I could see the scene where she’s in the plane alone at night while it’s undergoing automated electrical testing, and all the systems are turning themselves on and off in the dark hangar. That’s vivid and creepy even on paper!

Wikipedia says the reason there’s not a movie of this Crichton novel, though there are movies of almost all the others, is that it would be expensive, and that the technical content might make such a movie boring. Ah well. We still have the book, and the book is definitely not boring. See for yourself.

When and Why I Read Airframe

I have a whole shelf of mass-market paperbacks by this big-name author.

Genre: fiction (thriller)
Date started / date finished:  10-Apr-17 to 12-Apr-17
Length: 431 pages
ISBN: 0345402871 (paperback)
Originally published in: 1996
Amazon link: Airframe