Copyright 1997 by Robert L. Gidley. All rights reserved.

Published in the In Town Comic News (formerly Northwest Comic News). Rules for "Judging a Book by Its Cover."

Airframe is the latest book (well, the latest this week, anyway) by Michael "Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture" Crichton. The cover of Airframe has one of those wire-frame globes that looks computer-generated, probably to keep from alarming people. Itíd be hard to get a lot of sales at airports if the cover showed a fiery plane in a steep nose dive with beverage carts trailing behind it.

The cover is also helpfully labeled "A Novel," just in case you thought you were picking up an engineering textbook on how to design hurtling tubes of metal (hey--engineers need this kind of help).

Opening the cover and turning to the inside flap description, we see, "Three passengers are dead. Fifty-six are injured. The interior cabin virtually destroyed. But the pilot manages to land the plane..."

The main question in my mind at this point is, "Were the three dead passengers flying first class, and if they were--do they get nicer body bags than the coach passengers? Maybe ones with zippers and velvet linings?"

And if the interior cabin is "virtually destroyed," do the headphones still work? Nothing could be more horrible than lying in an airplane with broken arms while the 101 Strings play Barry Manilowís greatest hits. Brrrr. Now thatís terror!

The nice thing about Crichton books is that they are easily summarized. The Andromeda Strain, for example, is "Look out! Germs!" and Jurassic Park can be described as "Look out! Dinosaurs!" His novel Disclosure, of course, has the plot of "Look out! Women!"

So, at first thought, you might think Airframe can be described as "Look out! Airplanes!", my usual reaction to any tube of metal hurtling along at 500 miles per hour.

But lately, Mr. Crichton (or is it Dr. Crichton? "Doc Crick" to his friends?), seems to have entered the spirit of the 90ís and started recycling. His book The Lost World is about "Look out! Dinosaurs with Mad Cow Disease," thus combining The Andromeda Strain with Jurassic Park.

Perhaps he has done the same thing with Airframe. Maybe its plot is "Look out! Airplanes with Mad Cow Disease!" Better yet, it could be "Look out! Dinosaurs in F-14ís!" (which would be a very cool book).

The interesting thing about this book is that for the last six months, you couldnít walk past a bookstore in an airport without seeing a large stack of these. This always struck me as a little weird--I mean, there you are cruising along at five miles above the ground, encased in a man-made (i.e., bound to contain mistakes) tube of flimsy metal powered by engines capable of reducing a flock of geese to pate, and youíre going to settle down with a book like this?

I can envision an entire plane full of people sitting and reading this book and getting whiter and whiter, peering at the engine struts, nervously looking around for parachutes to strap on. This may account for the announcements that pilots have been making lately, "Passengers are reminded not to use cellular telephones or to read any Michael Crichton books while the plane is in the air" (Iíve always wondered if itís okay to use a cell phone when the plane is plummeting towards the ground at 500 mph-- "Hello, Mom?...Not too good, actually--the planeís about to crash, gotta go now").

This leads me to suspect that Mr./Dr./Rev. Crichton has invested heavily in Amtrack stock (which heíll sell right before he releases Train which has the plot of "Look out! Trains driven by Mad Cows!").

Sadly, I find that I canít recommend this book. The pages are made from really cheap paper (probably recycled in-flight magazines), which werenít even trimmed correctly. I mean, for $26, you ought to at least get a book with trimmed pages.

Although this would be a nice gift for any in-laws you donít like that do a lot of flying--"Say, Uncle Ned, hereís a book for you to read on your next flight! And remember, Crichton always meticulously researches everything, so itís bound to be true!"

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Copyright 1997 by Robert L. Gidley. All rights reserved.