Michael Crichton was very famous as a science fiction writer (or more properly, an author of the techno-thriller genre), but he did his share of writing in other genres too. Historical fantasy (Eaters of the Dead) and more conventional historical fiction (The Great Train Robbery, Pirate Latitudes), time travel (Timeline) white collar crime (Disclosure), and not-so-white-collar crime fiction (Dealing). He even wrote nonfiction work, including a memoir (Travels), medical work (Five Patients), and even a the text for a coffee table art book on the work of artist Jasper Johns. While Crichton will always be remembered for Jurassic Park (admittedly a fine legacy for any author to leave behind), his interests and talents were very diverse.
One of Crichton’s interests was politics. He was a man of strong opinions, and his opinions sometimes informed his fiction. He was critical of environmentalism and was highly skeptical about global warming. He was also suspicious of America’s business relationship with Japan, and this was one of the things that helped to shape the story of his detective novel Rising Sun, published in 1992.
Rising Sun plays out upon a backdrop of international business and corporate culture, illustrating what the author believed to be an imbalanced relationship between American and Japan in the form of a fictional suspense story. When a young American woman is murdered during the gala opening of Nakamoto Tower, the new headquarters for the American branch of the Japanese Nakamoto Corporation, detectives Peter J. Smith and John Connor are assigned to the case. They soon find that the Nakamoto Corporation is less than cooperative with the investigation, stalling wherever they can. When suspects start dying, Smith and Connor discover that this is no regular murder: it is only a small part of a larger economic battle being waged between American and Japanese business interests.
The book was well-received by readers, some of whom must have related to its worrying suggestions that America was losing its technological and economic edge to Japan. Many more probably just enjoyed the fast-paced crime story with all the technological flash of a typical Crichton novel. Others, however, weren’t as pleased. Some critics felt the book was alarmist, xenophobic and anti-Japanese. In any case, the book became a bestseller and was adapted as a feature film the following year.
More than anything else, though, the book is a product of its time. In the late eighties and early nineties, many Americans were frustrated by what were perceived economic inequalities in their nation’s relationship with Japan. Trade deficits and a changing global power structure introduced friction into what had been a very positive relationship. High level negotiations eventually brought resolution to many of these issues, but not before popular culture had its say. Movies like Gung Ho (1986) and Mr. Baseball (1992), games like Cyberpunk 2020 (1990) and, yes, books like Rising Sun inaccurately depicted the Japanese as a monolithic and alien culture, a target for both humor and fear.
This isn’t a condemnation of Rising Sun; rather it is a recognition of the cultural context in which it was created. Is the book worth reading? Most people think so. Does that mean you’ll enjoy it? You’ll have to find out for yourself.