Congo contains Michael Crichton’s famous blend of mystery, sci-fi, and horror. This novel features a scientific expedition into the Congo in search of a lost city. But our explorers soon find that while they are the only people for miles around, they are far from alone. This is one of Crichton’s good early works, published a full decade before Jurassic Park. Congo is one of his more beloved books overall and I personally found it on par with The Andromeda Strain. Crichton’s style of writing science fiction in a way where it is just enough to still be believable shines here.
The first act here is a bit slow. Readers who have already picked up a Crichton book here will be familiar with this pacing. There is a lot of scientific information and explanation as the story is set up. The information is need-to-know, but if science was not your favorite subject in school it could be a deterrent. But also in Crichton’s style, once the action gets going the sense of danger is close to non-stop for the rest of the story. Some of the twists and turns in this one are a bit over the top for a Crichton novel. Once over the hurdles of the first act, the story displays Crichton’s famous straight-forwardness.
The background information in this particular novel is actually fairly varied. Reading Congo will teach you about the Congo, some African history, military-grade computers, and solar flares, among other things. Granted, the “fiction” part of the science fiction here is no longer grandiose since the book is 38 years old. Take it with a grain of salt and remember that for its day, the technology in Congo was cutting edge. This was back when we still had pay phones on every street corner.
Educational value aside, Congo is a fun read. As stated before, there is plenty of action in the second act. This is typical of Crichton books. Was the opening of Jurassic Park the film better paced than Jurassic Park the book? Definitely. Did the film have characters riding around with an RPG blowing up nests of velociraptors? No, and that would have been really cool to see on-screen. Take that same logic and apply it to Congo. Especially given that the Congo movie was sub-par and made in the post-Jurassic Park (movie) Crichton craze. Bottom-line, if you like sci-fi/mystery/horror and Crichton, you will like Congo.