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Book Review Journal and Software Designs

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Congo – Review

by: Crichton, Michael

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Copyright: 1980

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 5/5/1995

Summary: Highly recommended. Much better than movie.

Republished from Crushies Book Reviews – Volume II Issue No. 5 – May 1995 – Copyright 1995.

First there was STARGATE. Lousy movie, lousy book. Then there was FOREST GUMP. Great movie, lousy book. Now there is CONGO. Lousy movie, incredibly good book.

Under the pounding fingers of anyone else, Michael Crichton’s CONGO would be a run-of-the-mill, trite, formula following story like-well, like the movie. But Crichton brings to his work two of the most elusive of ingredients of a good novelist–immediacy and believability.

First, let’s dispense with Amy. The talking gorilla, Amy. The talking gorilla with a human IQ of 92. Not central to the story but an integral part of it. Amy has learned to use American Sign Language (ASL). (For those who want to know, there is also a British Sign Language, a Japanese Sign Language, and others). Gorillas, we learn, are a great deal more “intelligent” than chimpanzees and more “civilized”. They don’t steal and eat human babies for instance. Chimpanzees do. Gorillas are also an endangered species. So too are human children who die at a rate of 40,000 a day from starvation. But of course, it’s crass to mention the two at the same time.

CONGO is about science application–new and ancient.

The story is crafted to read like a true event-from introduction to footnotes to a bibliography. The bibliography is real, the introduction is half fact, half prelude.

The author prefaces events by saying that the story is about exploration on the African continent. Even today, after more than sixty million years, the primeval one-and-a-half million square miles of equatorial rain forest romantically referred to as the Congo is peripherally populated by only half a million people. There are thousands of square miles of the Congo Basin still unexplored. The Congo Basin exploration of 1979, the author goes on to say, shows how the job of exploring has changed from the times of the great explorers to modern day mega-corporations such as Earth Resources Technology Services (ERTS) based in Houston.

It is when one of ERTS’s exploration teams gets lost in the unexplored Congo, amid what seems a perpetual civil war, that the rapid paced action of CONGO begins.

We get a glimpse of the sophisticated satellite technology that makes the world a truly small place. Communication, even from the remotest regions of the world, is almost instantaneous. Locations are determined with pinpoint accuracy. Computers can be used to analyze and determine what the human eye thinks it sees; sounds can be analyzed to determine patterns. Even events projected into the future can be analyzed for probability of occurrence, allowing minute adjustments in the course of current activities. And of course, there are weapons. The LATRAP, a system of laser-tracking projectile, pretty much does away with the need for rifle marksmen.

What makes CONGO so enjoyable is that we are introduced to all this technology, this sophisticated application of human-mind power manipulating and controlling our environs, and still, after all else, we are at the mercy of controlling out egos to make things go right. Of course, the fact that we can’t control our egos, our avarice, our greed, is what makes the technology so dangerous.

Definitely read CONGO. You’ll find an educational tour-de-force on our current computer-age technology. If you are unlucky enough to see the movie before you read the book, try to forget the movie.

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