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First edition cover
|Genre||Science fiction novel,
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|LC Class||PS3553.R48 C6 1980|
|Preceded by||Eaters of the Dead|
Congo is a 1980 science fiction novel by Michael Crichton. The novel centers on an expedition searching for diamonds and investigating the mysterious deaths of a previous expedition in the dense rain forest of Congo. Crichton calls Congo a lost world novel in the tradition founded by Henry Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, featuring the mines of that work's title.
The novel starts with an abrupt end to an expedition sent by Earth Resource Technology Services Inc. in the dense rain forests of Congo (Zaire) when the team is attacked and killed by unknown creatures and all contact with them is lost. The expedition, searching for deposits of valuable diamonds, discovered the legendary lost city of Zinj (in Arabic Zinj or Zanj refers to the southern part of the East African coast). A video image taken by a camera there, and transmitted by satellite to the base station in Houston, shows a peculiar race of grey-haired gorillas to be responsible for the murders.
Another expedition, led by Karen Ross, is launched to find out the truth and to find the city of Zinj, where there are believed to be deposits of a certain diamond, type IIb, which are naturally boron-doped and thus useful as semiconductors, though worthless as gemstones. This time the searchers bring along the famous White African mercenary Charles Munro, as well as a female gorilla named Amy, who has been trained to communicate with humans using sign language, and her trainer Peter Elliot. Time is of the greatest essence, as a rival consortium from corporations in Japan, Germany, and Holland are also searching for the diamonds, turning the entire expedition into a race to the city of Zinj. Unfortunately for Ross and her team, the American expedition encounters many delays along the way, including plane crashes, native civil wars, and jungle predators.
Eventually, Ross and her expedition reach the City of Zinj and discover the consortium's camp, like the original expedition's camp, in ruins and devoid of life. Ross and her team lose contact with the ERTS HQ due to a massive solar flare, then encounter the killer gorillas and are attacked. A brief battle ensues and several gorillas are killed. After studying the corpses and performing a rudimentary field autopsy, it is concluded the animals are not "true" gorillas by modern biological standards, but gorilla-human hybrids: their mass and height is closer to humans than gorillas, their skull is greatly malformed (the "ridge" that makes gorilla heads look "pointy" is nearly nonexistent) as well as their pigmentation is on the border of albinism: light gray fur and yellow eyes.
In addition, they exhibit different behavior: they are highly aggressive, ruthless and partially nocturnal. Unlike normal gorillas, the grey animals are also extremely social, a troop consisting of over a hundred, compared to a normal troop of a dozen animals. Elliot intends to name them Gorilla elliotensis after himself. Afterwards, Ross, Elliot, and Munro explore the ruins and discover that the killer gorillas were bred by the ancient inhabitants of Zinj to serve as guards to protect the diamond mines from intruders. After several more attacks, Elliot, with the help of Amy, finds a way to translate the language of the new gorillas (she refers to them as "bad gorillas") and piece together three messages ("go away", "don't come", "here bad"); they stop fighting the humans and become confused, leaving the camp.
Their victory is cut short by the eruption of the nearby volcano, accelerated by explosives placed by Ross for her geological surveys, that buries the city, the diamond fields and all proof of the "new" species under 800 meters of lava. Ross, Elliot, Munro, and the rest of the team's survivors are forced to run for their lives. The team then manages to find a hot air balloon in a crashed consortium cargo aircraft and uses it to escape. In an epilogue, it is revealed that Munro was able to retrieve a few hundred carats of the valuable diamonds and sold them to Intel for use in a revolutionary new computer processor, while Amy was reintroduced into the wild and was later observed teaching her offspring sign language.
Crichton wanted to do a modern-day version of King Solomon's Mines. He pitched the idea to 20th Century Fox who bought the film rights before the story had been even written. This resulted in Crichton being blocked and unable to start the novel.[clarification needed] He spent time in an isolation tank. Crichton received a $1.5 million advance for the novel, screenplay and as a directing fee. He had never worked that way before, usually writing the book then selling it. He eventually managed to finish the book and it became a best seller.
Crichton started writing the screenplay in 1981 after completing the film Looker. He had enjoyed working with Sean Connery on The Great Train Robbery and wrote Congo hoping to make the film version with Connery in the lead and Crichton to direct. In 1987 he was still hoping to make the film with Connery and Crichton himself directing but this did not eventuate.
In 1995, a film version of Congo was released, directed by Frank Marshall and starring Dylan Walsh, Laura Linney, Tim Curry, and Ernie Hudson. The version received negative reviews from critics, and was nominated for several Golden Raspberry Awards including Worst Picture. Despite this, the film had a successful box office performance, grossing $152 million worldwide.
In 1984 Telarium released a graphic adventure based on Congo. Because Crichton had sold all adaptation rights to the novel, he set the game—named Amazon—in South America, and Amy the gorilla became Paco the parrot.
The story has a strong similarity with the short story "Jewels of Gwahlur", by author Robert E. Howard, first published in 1935. Among the similar plot elements are a quest to find a hidden treasure consisting of valuable gems, concealed in an ancient lost city, deep in the jungle, in an Africa-like locale, guarded by highly intelligent ape-like creatures with super-human strength who squash the heads of (and otherwise mutilate) their victims. These creatures are also described as gray in color, just like the apes in Congo.
- BEHIND THE BEST SELLERS: Michael Crichton McDOWELL, EDWIN. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 08 Feb 1981: BR8.
- CRICHTON DIPS INTO THE TANK: MICHAEL CRICHTON Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 06 May 1980: g1.
- At the Movies: How Resnais made a success with science. Buckley, Tom. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 06 Feb 1981: C12.
- An author of pleasurable fear: Michael Crichton takes fiction where you wouldn't want to go Gorner, Peter. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file) [Chicago, Ill] 24 June 1987: D1.
- Maher, Jimmy (2013-10-11). "From Congo to Amazon". The Digital Antiquarian. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
- Howard, Robert E. (1935-05-01). "Jewels of Gwahlur". Weird Tales. Retrieved 15 June 2015.