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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Michael Crichton's Next: A Book Review

Don't worry, I'm still reading Hell's Belles and I'm definitely going to share my thoughts of it with you! I was sick yesterday though and I decided to finish a book I got for Christmas. I finished up Michael Crichton's Next.

I am a fan of Crichton. I periodically read the Jurassic Park novels and Sphere has to be one of my favorites. Often his books are complex - mixing science, technology and an interesting flavor of character. Many times his books carry a theme or a message; Next is no exception. In fact, if I were to name a fictional book as a call to action - this would be one near (if not at) the top of the list.

There is no subtlety in Next. The situations the characters face are almost extreme in the absurdity, at first you scoff and then begin to experience a sense of worry. He not only brings you face to face with disturbing situations on gene therapy, genetic patents, etc... but he also reaches out of the book and bonks you on the forehead. "WAKE UP!" He says.

So, what are these messages you ask? Don't worry. In case you can't read between the lines of the novel, Crichton provides a nice synopsis of his points in his author notes.

1. Stop Patenting Genes
2. Establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues
3. Pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public
4. Avoid bans on research
5. Rescind the Bayh-Dole Act

Yes, yes, this is all good - but what about the story? Is it a good read?

I'll be honest the story bounces between several characters and a couple of times I lost which character I was reading about. I had to stop and think, "ok, is this the scientist doing the illegal testing...", or "is this the lab president who has some wierd thing about solving his secretary's frigidness". There is a bounty hunter and his assistant. There is a father, a daughter and her son. There is a family... wait, there are a couple of families. While I found myself a little lost from time to time, I was still hooked. I was reading for the result and the message. I didn't really care which character it was because I wasn't emotionally involved with that particular character. Although, I was emotionally attached to the Burnetts.

The Burnett family has an interesting role in the story of Next. The father develops cancer, he recovers with medical treatment, and unbeknownst to him - the doctor uses his cells in research. The father's cells are special and some interesting legal situations develop. I also enjoyed the transgenic twists within the story and enjoyed the transgenic creatures, in fact, I think I may have liked them the most. (Which doesn't surprise me if that is the intended reaction.) I won't go over the plot because it's not something easily paraphrased and this is a book that has a bigger "punch" when you read it without knowing too many details.

I do admit to getting angry and disgusted a few times and that's why I say it is a "call to action". If you sit down to read a book for simple enjoyment and you find yourself having an emotional reaction to the message behind the story (rather than just loving a character) - it has moved you. It has made you think and maybe it will influence a decision you make... or perhaps get you involved in changing our society.

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Anonymous Tracey said...

I think this book is sitting on one of our bookshelves somewhere. I'm not sure whether I'll rush to read it, but your review certainly has me intrigued.

6:11 AM  
Blogger Jennifer Shirk said...

Yep. Good book review. I'll put on on my "to be read" pile.

1:33 PM  
Blogger Wylie Kinson said...

I read this book earlier this year and I absolutely agree -- the research, science, and message was all very good, intriguing stuff. The number of characters was mind-boggling and I found it very hard connecting with any of them because of the bouncing around. I didn't really get into it until the 1/2 way point -- when the threads started to make sense...
But MC is one of my fave authors (I ALWAYS learn something fascinating!) so I'll keep buying whatever he writes.

6:31 PM  
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