Study Guide

State of Fear

by Michael Crichton

State of Fear Summary

Summary

Part 1: Akamai

The novel opens on a May afternoon in Paris, France. Jonathan Marshall, a graduate student in physics, has met an attractive young woman named Marisa at a cafe and has taken her back to the wave mechanics laboratory that he is working at for the summer. Marisa pretends to be very interested in Marshall and his work, asking seemingly naive questions about the lab equipment and the security cameras in the lab. Marisa then takes Marshal back to her apartment where she seduces him. Soon after, three men burst into the apartment. The men hold the naked Marshall down on his stomach and inject something into his arm. They quickly leave and Marisa claims that they are merely friends of her boyfriend Jimmy, playing a cruel trick on them. Marshall soon begins to feel ill and decides to leave for home. Marisa agrees to drive him home, but on the way to her car, Marshall's condition deteriorates until he is eventually unable to move at all. After Marshall becomes completely paralyzed, Marisa throws him into the Seine River, where he drowns.

The narrative next shifts to a rain forest in Malaysia. Charles Ling has flown in from Hong Kong the night before to pick up a potential customer who identifies himself as Allan Peterson and claims to be a geologist from Canada. Ling sells cavitation machines that are able to create pits or cavities in solid substances by means of focused sound waves. He takes Peterson into the rain forest where he demonstrates the operation of one of his machines, leveling two sections of cliff. Peterson quickly agrees to buy three cavitation units and has Ling take him back to the airport.

In London, an American man has come to the office of Richard Mallory to pick up a secret package. The package is a box of wire. As the box weighs some seven hundred pounds, Mallory helps the American load the wire into his delivery van. After they load the wire into the van, the van's driver, a woman dressed in military attire, attacks the American and pierces his neck with something that she has hidden behind her back. He curses and runs away from the van toward the street outside. Mallory is shocked by the woman's actions, but she warns him to keep quiet and go back to work and then drives away. Mallory returns to his office but soon hears sirens. He walks outside and sees that a pedestrian has been hit and fatally injured by a bus. The pedestrian is the American man who just fled from the delivery van.

The next scene takes place in Tokyo at the offices of the IDEC (International Data Environmental Consortium). Akira Hitomi, the IDEC director, presents information to John Kenner and Sanjong Thapa about the results of his company's latest research. The IDEC is the world leader in accumulating and manipulating electronic data. Hitomi summarizes the data collected from the last twenty-one days. He reports increased cellular traffic and heavily encrypted e-mail transmissions pointing to a large secretive project in the works that is "global in scope, immensely complicated, extremely expensive."

In Vancouver one week later, Nat Damon, who works for Canada Marine RS Technologies, signs a nondisclosure agreement with a new client, Seismic Services. Damon's company rents research and remote submarines to energy companies. While discussing the client's needs, Damon becomes suspicious when the men answer his questions vaguely. They tell him they want to place external devices on the ocean floor. The men pay the expensive fee for renting the submarine up-front, and Damon feels as though there is more to their story than they are letting on.

The next scene takes place in Iceland. Philanthropist George Morton, NERF (National Environmental Resource Fund) director Nicholas Drake, and lawyer Peter Evans have flown into Reykjavik and driven out to a remote glacial research site. Morton has personally funded this particular research project and the group has come to analyze the progress of the research. While Morton and Evans are distracted by the presence of two beautiful local graduate students, Drake gets into a confrontation with Dr. Per Einarsson, the lead scientist on the research project, about what specific findings he will publish concerning the research.

After returning from Iceland to Los Angeles, Evans and Morton meet with Thapa and Kenner, who advise Morton to hold off any further contributions to Drake and NERF. At Morton's insistence, Evans visits the offices of NERF's Vanutu litigation team; they are planning to sue the United States over rising sea levels caused by global warming, which is threatening the low-lying atolls of Vanutu. He meets the famous litigator John Balder, who is in charge of the team, and his assistant, Jennifer Haynes, who the reader later learns is Kenner's niece.

Drake has planned a well-publicized charity event in which he gives Morton NERF's Citizen of the Year award. However, upon accepting the award, a drunken Morton mysteriously and publicly lambastes Drake and NERF before driving off in his Ferrari. Evans attempts to follow Morton and comes upon the scene of Morton's wrecked Ferrari, and although there is no body, pieces of Morton's clothing are found. It is assumed that he has been swept away by the ocean.

After the accident, there are a series of unexplained break-ins and mysterious attacks. Recalling Morton's last words to him, Evans uncovers a hidden piece of paper with a set of coordinates. Kenner and Thapa realize the coordinates represent geographical locations, and the first one on the list is Mt. Terror, Antarctica.

Part 2: Terror

Part 2 opens with Kenner, Evans, Sarah Jones, and Thapa on a long flight to Antarctica. During the flight, Kenner explains to Jones and Evans that intelligence has uncovered information that members of ELF (Environmental Liberation Front) have been purchasing some very expensive equipment, including military equipment and experimental technology to enact an as-yet-unknown plan. The four on the plane are traveling to Antarctica to try to find out more about what ELF has in the works.

After landing on the runway at Marso del Mar, the team is transported to Weddell Station, the base nearest Mount Terror. Kenner has learned of a scientist who has recently arrived and set up a camp south of Mount Terror, calling himself James Brewster. After investigating his credentials, Kenner finds the man to be an impostor. The team sets out to investigate his camp, traveling over the dangerous Antarctic shear zone in snowtracks, a special kind of treaded automobile designed to cross the rugged, icy landscape. A local researcher calling himself Jimmy Bolden leads the way. Upon arriving and inspecting the camp, the team finds that Brewster has set a number of PTB (precision-timed blast) cones at regular intervals along an Antarctic shelf, and Kenner explains, "I think there's no question of what he intends. Our friend Brewster is hoping to fracture the ice for a hundred miles, and break off the biggest iceberg in the history of the planet."

Kenner directs the team to split up, and he follows Brewster's tracks in his snowtrack while Jones and Evans follow Bolden back to Weddell Station in their snowtrack. Along the drive...

(The entire section is 2962 words.)