Drug of Choice – Michael Crichton (writing as John Lange)

3 out of 5 


Michael Crichton, writing as John Lange, was hinting at his eventual stardom from the start. Not because, ahem, the books were particularly good, but the writing itched at Bigger Concepts and cinematic setups, the former often more than Crichton was able to fit effectively between the covers, and the latter not really suited to the medium, switching between points of view and incorporating transitions in a way that could work onscreen, but break immersion in text. 

Still, it’s the urgency for something more that permeates his Lange novels – something beyond their pulp genre – and makes them noteworthy regardless of their ties to the writer we’d later know. Blended with a keen sense of popcorn pacing and dialogue, I can imagine myself at the time picking up the next Lange novel, hoping he would finally solve whatever formula he’d been picking at.

Drug of Choice still isn’t that solve, as it’s loaded with many above the above issues, but it’s overreach finally crosses some type of barrier that had him mashing up his medical background with fantastical fiction / sci-fi impulses. It’s a ridiculous book that’s jammed into three misfitting sections in nary o’er two hundred pages (207, to be exact), but man, you can’t deny how Big the Big Concept here is, and how Lange / Crichton finally just starts going with it, instead of maybe feeling limited by the pulpiness of it all.

Doctor Roger Clark gets a slew of patients who are in comas, and then suddenly aren’t, without much explanation. Some peculiarities have him trace this behavior to a new drug… We get to see how the drug works, exactly – the book’s most intriguing ante-up – and Crichton feeds that into conspiracy-laden nonsense, and easy-to-please commentary on pop culture consumption. Lastly, the denouement: what happens for Clark after the drug.

In Lange books, most of the characters are pretty empty, and that’s especially true here. The cast is at least kept slim, so we can focus on Clark, but we never really care about him; we’re just following him around ’cause the contents are pretty fun, although that short runtime is a necessity because the logic is pretty slim. The net of these two factors is that the three sections of the book almost feel like short stories smushed together, and as a result, immersion is a matter or reading this in one sitting; otherwise, I found I could put this down for weeks, and then pick it back up and not have to think too hard about finding my place. Like, start from anywhere – you’re good.

Still, it’s surely a fun lil’ read, and absolutely our most direct indication of what was to come.