Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pirate Latitudes

Over in my obituary for novelist Michael Crichton, I lamented the fact that I would never get to read another one of his novels. As it turns out, I spoke too soon. Just last November, his latest novel Pirate Latitudes was released posthumously, and sometime later this year we'll see the release another novel that is as of yet only described as "Untitled Michael Crichton Techno Thriller." I think they should just keep that as the title. Crichton is turning into the Tupac of the literary world, proving himself to be just as resilient to extinction as the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park.

Pirate Latitudes, as the story goes, was found by one of Crichton's assistants as a completed manuscript on his old computer. It's a strange little book, with more in common with one of his earlier historical novels than the multi-titled techno thrillers for which he is best known, and one wonders if he even would've published it had he not passed away at such a young age. It definitely reads like early Crichton, but that isn't a bad thing, since it definitely does read like Crichton. I'm usually suspicious of manuscripts that are "found" after some such writer's death, since they more often than not seem hastily finished and ghostwritten by lesser writers, but this one is most definitely written by Crichton. His is a clean, entertaining style that many writers would endeavor to emulate, but few would be the least bit successful. And, frankly, early Crichton is still my favorite Crichton, since he seemed more interested in entertaining readers than he did educating them on his increasingly questionable opinions and politics.

All of the above was my round about introduction to the following sentence: This is just about the most ridiculously entertaining novel I've read in years. From start to finish, it was an enthralling, exciting, entertaining adventure yarn that never let up on the suspense, melodrama, and sense of humor. As far as Crichton's novels go, the books story was surprisingly simple and straight forward, with a plot that involved one crew's attempt to capture another vessel and then make it home, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth reading and enjoying and loving. Every book doesn't have to be War and Peace. In fact, I'm glad that every book isn't War and Peace, though I kind of wish every book was Pirate Latitudes.

As far as literary value or subtext, I can't say there is all that much. I think Crichton just wanted to write a pirate novel, and the world is better for it. I guess there's some such attempt at dispelling the commonly held view of pirates as rebellious outlaws, but that many were actually commissioned by the various governments at the time, blurring the line between right and wrong, criminals and heroes. And while it is a pirate novel and not a techno thriller, Crichton's signature style or cramming in as much information as possible is well on display. Crichton obviously did a tremendous amount of research on the historical climate at the time, the geography of the Caribbean archipelago, and 17th century sailing in general. And, having done that research, by god he was going to use it all somehow.

The novel has already been optioned by Steven Spielberg for a screen adaptation, and it is easy to see why. The film is paced somewhat like a Hollywood blockbuster, with one action set piece leading up to the next. The characters are all memorable, if a bit cliched, creating a crew that the roots for, even while they do some truly terrible, piratey things. There is lots of gore here, with bodies breaking apart when hit by cannonballs, and brains splattering on people's faces after they get shot in the head. I would image Spielberg will cut down on some of that, so be sure you read the book first because it's awesome.

So go buy Pirate Latitudes. This novel is a booty call I think everybody will want to answer. Ha ha ha ha...

1 comment:

Justin Garrett Blum said...

Sounds awesome, actually. I haven't read a good pirate story in a long time.