On Monday I drove to Dallas to meet my wife and family and lead them to our new residence in deepest, darkest Arkansas. The drive is six hours one way. In Texarkana (about half way), I stopped at Books-a-Million for a quick break, to get some iced tea at Joe Muggs, and to find out if they had any new audio-books available. There I found Next (published in 2006) by Michael Crichton. At five hours length, it seemed to be ideal for the remainder of my journey to Dallas and most of the journey back (I picked up Pride and Prejudice on the return leg). After the end of the novel was an interview with Michael Crichton, which was probably the best part of the audio-book, because it provided insight into how he got the idea for the novel and Mr. Crichton discussed his fascinating views on the insane world of corporate patenting and marketing of gene technology. It’s a shame that his views weren’t as clearly expressed and understandable in the novel as in the interview.
During the interview Mr. Crichton said that he wanted to make the book reflect the complexity of the issues surrounding gene patents and corporate ownership of genes. That came across very well in the book. Mr. Crichton touched on numerous topics, which made for a complex novel. What did not help was that instead of focusing on the stories of a few characters, he seemed to bring in one or two new characters every few minutes (remember I had the audio-book). Not until the end of the novel did he focus on a few main characters. I felt like I needed a notebook and pen to keep track of all the characters and the minor plots behind each, of which there seemed to be a thousand. Most of these plots focused on the legal and ethical problems of gene technology, which, while often intriguing, did not make for an exciting book. Indeed, while the first few pages showed promise of adventure with a detective trying to surveil someone who had stolen several embryos, after that there was little true action until the last few chapters. There is some corporate espionage and black marketing of genes and theft of chimeras (mostly human-animal hybrids) to make for some excitement, but nothing as action-packed as Jurassic Park.
If anyone wants to know why economy of characters is important, he/she should read this novel.
Next was not so bad that I threw it out the car window. It did have its highlights and lighter moments and probably because I have something of an analytical mind (as my friends and acquaintances tell me), it did keep me intrigued and curious as to how everything would be resolved. However, for me it was something of a mild disappointment considering that it came from the author of Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and many other fine, entertaining novels.
Would I recommend this book to others? It wasn’t a waste of time, I will say that, but its focus on legal and ethical problems would probably bore some. I would recommend this to people who are interested in the law and issues behind the evolving world of gene technology and research and the corporate patenting of it or to people who are interested in the law and/or technology in general. Fans of Michael Crichton would probably find it interesting, but I doubt anyone would find it exhilarating.
I may write some more on this later, but these are my initial impressions. I have posted this review on Goodreads also.