Thursday, April 17, 2014

Next by Michael Crichton

We live in a time of rapid scientific change, where the bounds of science are almost limitless - except where national and international laws limit what can be done.  In this world of transgenics and gene therapy it seems as though there is a cure for everything and a chance to change everything for the better.  But that is just the big picture, what about the little stories that weave together to paint a picture for the everyday person - the everyday person living with the knowledge they are on the cutting edge of science, or the everyday person walking around with a patent on their cells, or the discovery that somewhere along the way you messed up in your research and you have an unexpected child out there.  All these stories and more could be happening out there right now - probably are happening right now.

In Next we get to experience those stories first hand through the lives of the people whose stories are intertwined in this thought provoking novel about what science has lead us to, what it still might lead us to, and the havoc those changes are making in a world that it not yet ready for the legal and ethical complications of medical science, greed, and competition.  For Frank Burnet the cancer that saved his life was a miracle, but he never expected the team at UCLA to take his cells for years after he was cured so they could patent them and make a huge profit - a profit he thought it was reasonable to request a share of.  He also shouldn't expect his daughter and grandson to be targeted by a bounty hunter when the patent holder needs replacement cells and he is nowhere to be found - but that is just what happens when the patent holder exploits the fact the law is behind the times.  Woven around this story are others that show what could be happening right now across the world as research teams scramble for an advantage, a patent that will make them millions - no matter what scientific boundaries they have to push in the process.

Next is nearly a decade old now, but it is still a thought provoking and gripping read - not spoilt in the least by the fact I have already read it before and mostly remember how it ended.  Michael Crichton has a history of writing books that push the boundaries of science, making us think about what is possible and what might be possible - and if we should mess with nature just because we can (think Jurassic Park, Congo, Sphere).  Crichton has a knack for writing books that suck you into the story and refuse to let you go until you reach the conclusion of the novel - and even then sometimes the ideas bounce around in your head for days to come.  One of my favourite quotes around science comes from Jurassic Park, and while I may slightly misquote it the sentiment is there - "we were so busy wondering if we could that we didn't stop to think if we should". 

The loss of Michael Crichton was just that, a loss, with his death we lost a compelling and thought provoking author who was also an talented screen writer and director.  I was inspired to re-read Next after adding Genesis by Bernard Beckett to my reading list and I am glad I re-read it because I couldn't put it down and read it in a single sitting (who needs to watch the evening news anyway).  The short chapters and intertwined storylines may drive some people to distraction, but over time the story blends together layer by layer and I was so absorbed in the story I had no problem keeping everyone straight after the first chapter or two about each aspect/character of the story.  A must read for anyone who has an interest in "realistic" science fiction or even anyone who likes a good action adventure with a healthy dose of conspiracy theory.

If you like this book then try:
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  • Sphere by Michael Crichton
  • The devil's cure by Kenneth Oppel
  • Antibodies by Kevi J. Anderson
  • Zoo by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
Reviewed by Brilla

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