Michael Crichton’s Next

08May07

When you realize that a Chimpanzee differs from the humans by only around 500 genes and is not very different from the genetic composition of a severely autistic child, it is rather scary to realize how close Science has come to understanding the building blocks of life.

Scary, because from what we know of our human race it’s a dangerous proposition that man has the ability to manipulate life and human behavior to suit his own fancies. Too much knowledge might be as dangerous as too little.

Beginning with State of Fear and now Next, Michael Crichton questions the generally accepted and revered scientific facts, and attempts to show how what we understand as Science is actually a bunch of misconceptions spun for Political and Economic reasons. After his diatribe against Global Warming in State of Fear, he now takes up Genetics as his next target.

The story runs a number of parallel subplots each dealing with various aspects of Genetic research. A wealthy businessman who poses as a ‘capitalist with a conscience’ while indulging in heinous biological acts, a research firm which claims ownership of a lady and her child because they patented her father’s gene which is naturally inherited by the daughter, a media savvy scientist who steals research that he claims as his own, and a number of movie-style light hearted characters including a Parrot which swears, a Chimp that behaves like a human kid and a talking Orangutan.

The US Government invests a huge amount in biomedical research and Crichton points out that uncontrolled, unethical research might as well result in such bizarre circumstances as a completely legitimate ownership of a living human because his cells are owned by a corporation. Although gene therapy is said to cure diseases, the story tries to show how easy it is to manipulate them to an extent that human behavior can be controlled by an individual. Just like Dolly, the first cloned sheep that died a premature death, many genetically modified humans in the story develop bizarre complications in their system and die under strange circumstances.

Beyond science, Crichton discusses the ethics of humans playing a game of the ‘Creator and Controller’. Apparently leading to a world where humans are rendered as guinea pigs with ruthlessly fatal genetic experiments carried out on them without even a legitimate need to inform them beforehand; and the law does not have enough rules to control them.

Despite the near-realistic possibilities portrayed in the novel, it fails as a work of fictional literature. The incidents in the novel stand out as independent events connected by the lone idea of genetic research, but falls way short of having a strong storyline to link them together. Embedded fictional news clippings and research articles with complex biological jargons give you a feel of reading a science magazine rather than a full fledged novel.

The flow is broken. None of the characters stay in your mind after you’ve turned a page. The characters are too many in number, arbitrary and poorly formed. You’ll need to keep noting down the characters and what they are doing in every chapter to keep track of the convoluted story line. With so many characters and parallel incidents connecting them, it is very hard to find where the story – if at all there is one – is heading.

To be fair to all the good information and analysis it contains, the novel would have fared better as a collection of independent documentaries rather than a work of fiction. But the novel does pose an all important question – are we humans messing up with science?

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3 Responses to “Michael Crichton’s Next

  1. I don’t enjoy such books much. You seem to be reading books of all categories.

  2. Just finished reading the book…. All I have to say is Oh My God!!! Some things seem bizarre and others ridiculous, but to know that most of this is true or will be true soon is just scary.. Right now reading up some research papers available on the net relating to genetic enineering

  3. uetcuR Good post.


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