Honestly, its hard to be critical with a best selling author like Michael Crichton. However, when one comes to expect greatness, then runs into an average novel--or below average in this case, it is hard to not be disappointed.
Congo begins with a team of men exploring Africa who are systematically being wiped out by an unknown enemy. Some of this event is caught on tape by the "control people" in Houston, Texas--led by Dr. Karen Ross. They notice a shadow close by the camera. After analyzing this on computer, they clear the image to what looks like a gorilla. A team goes to the Congo in Africa to inspect.
At the same time, in San Francisco, Peter Elliot owns a gorilla that has a 600+ sign language vocabulary. Her name is Amy. As it turns out, Amy is fond of finger painting and has been drawing a living city in what looks like the African jungle. Supposedly, by this city of "Zinj", there are many rare blue diamonds. So, a team from Texas takes Peter and Amy along. The journey now begins...
After hiring Charles Munro as their guide, they enter the heart of Africa. On their way they face many trials, including attacking gorillas, volcanoes, natives, and revolutionaries.
Eventually, they enter the city and do find diamonds. However, they are somewhat distracted trying to stay alive with (even more deadly) gorillas attacking all around. Read the novel if you want to find out more. Although, I would save my money and borrow someone else's.
First, let's establish common grounds. We all know the movie was bad - cheesy at best. The book is probably much better in the eyes of most. But I say not by much. And here's why...
What Congo lacks foremost is strong characters. There are about a total of five characters worth mentioning, but none worth remembering. They are developed terribly and were all pawns to Crichton's informational mind. In some cases, this is all right and the story can survive. In Airframe, for example, you expect to read about technical Airplane data. In the two dinosaur stories, you expect to here his opinion on dinosaurs. Here in Congo, Crichton did give his opinion (and knowledge) on the Congo, but, also on everything else too. One conversation led to another one that had absolutely nothing to do with the first. It was sluggish reading at times. Try to imagine yourself in the characters conversations and say a sentence out loud exactly as it is written. It comes off overly contrived. Not even a very smart person (which Crichton is) talks this way. Why even have dialog? He should have added something in the characters to make them worth remembering. In about two weeks, you'll forget their names. In the little development that there was, here is a character summary:
Charles Munro comes off as a hard-nosed man who likes to rough it out in the wilderness, but yet, is very technical minded. Peter Elliot is the inept and bumbling character of the story who cares more for his talking ape, Amy, than the mission itself, and Karen Ross is an irate, irrational, easily-irritated woman. Amy comes off as a 2-year-old.
The actual plot is very anticlimactic. Nothing worth remembering either--therefore nothing worth mentioning. Otherwise, there will be too many negatives in this review which leads to more hate email that I have to sort through which takes time I do not have.
So why did I grade Congo with a 70% rather than about a 40%? Well, to its credit, it is a fairly realistic story (other than the trained killer apes aspect of course). There was much research put into this novel and if you have any interest on the subjects that Crichton tries to educate us on, you may be interested. Also, there are some partially well-written action scenes in this novel too.
Overall, put this story on the bottom of your Crichton must read list. Given a choice, read Sphere or Jurassic Park instead. They are much more entertaining--yet educational at the same time.