Setting Sam

2 minute read
John Skow

RISING SUN by Michael Crichton

Knopf; 355 pages; $22

In Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton’s technothriller about cloned dinosaurs, the author asked a fairly serious question: Is it wise to let commercial technicians meddle with genetic engineering? It did not require a molecular biologist to work out his answer: Only if you think you can run faster than whatever Bacillus or tyranosaur they manage to hatch.

Crichton’s mood has darkened, and in his new novel, he does not bother with questions. It is the reader who asks those. In structure, the story is a whodunit — a policeman is obstructed by powerful opponents as he solves the murder of a party girl who is strangled in a Los Angeles office. But the building is owned by a Japanese consortium. The opponents are Japanese businessmen, Japanese gangsters and, it seems, the entire Japanese society.

As Lieut. Peter Smith, a community-liaison officer who speaks a little Japanese, pushes to solve the murder of Cheryl Austin, which seems to have something to do with the Nakamoto Corp.’s plans to buy one of the last remaining high-tech electronics firms still in American hands, he discovers the extent of Japanese economic subversion. It’s not just the huge real estate and industrial investments. The chronically roundheeled U.S. Congress is a wholly owned subsidiary. Local governments and Smith’s own police force have been “influenced.” University labs are not working for the good guys. “At the University of California at Irvine,” Smith’s Japanese-speaking associate, John Connor, tells him, “there’s two floors of a research building that you can’t get into unless you have a Japanese passport.”

The last half of the book is an off-and-on lecture by Connor on the Japanese character: they are “the most racist people on earth,” he says, group loyal and contemptuous of erratic Western individualism. A Japanese changes personality from situation to situation, and thus lying is simply an adjustment to circumstances.

There’s a lot more, all ugly, with three pages of bibliography, no less, to support it. What does it say about the reader, or the Japanese, that it is harder to dismiss this stuff than if the slurs began “All Jews . . .” or “All Arabs . . .”?

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