Friday, August 15

"Next" - Michael Crichton

"Is a loved one missing some body parts? Are blondes becoming extinct? Is everyone at your dinner table of the same species? Humans and chimpanzees differ in only 400 genes; is that why a chimp fetus resembles a human being? And should that worry us? There's a new genetic cure for drug addiction--is it worse than the disease?
We live in a time of momentous scientific leaps, a time when it's possible to sell our eggs and sperm online for thousands of dollars and to test our spouses for genetic maladies.
We live in a time when one fifth of all our genes are owned by someone else, and an unsuspecting person and his family can be pursued cross-country because they happen to have certain valuable genes within their chromosomes...
Devilishly clever, Next blends fact and fiction into a breathless tale of a new world where nothing is what it seems and a set of new possibilities can open at every turn.
Next challenges our sense of reality and notions of morality. Balancing the comic and the bizarre with the genuinely frightening and disturbing, Next shatters our assumptions and reveals shocking new choices where we least expect.
The future is closer than you think. "
This is such an ambitious sort of book I doubt it would have succeeded if it weren't for Michael Crichton's best-selling status and reputation. In fact, my mum (also a fan of Crichton) tried reading it but put it down quite quickly as it "was just too complicated". I have to admit, it was.
This is not the kind of book you read as you're getting ready to fall asleep - it requires concentration. It was even getting to the point where I felt like writing down a list of the main characters and a short description for each, just for reference. Crichton juggles many lead characters at once, with many complex scientific scenarios as well, not to mention the fully fleshed-out personal lives of each character - their career paths, their wealth, their upbringing, their various sex partners, the lot. Their stories are all told 'at once' so to speak - a chapter about Rick, followed by a chapter about Josh, followed by a chapter about Lynn, and it's five chapters before we get back to Rick's story, which has since moved on slightly, and then we're back to Josh again and then a new character with a new situation is introduced and - you see what I mean. (There are even two different primary-school-aged boys called Jamie. Confusion city.)
These characters and their stories all interweave and connect as you move through the book, so the experience is sort of like watching a tapestry being constructed, but only seeing one distinct section being worked on at a time. The issues tackled in this one are also pretty hefty - it's all about genetic researchers and their crazy experiments and the big pharmaceutical companies who just want to make money. Occasionally, some elements of the story became slightly ludicrous - a genetically modified parrot with incredibly high intelligence levels who can perfectly mimic voices and sounds, do arithmetic, and hold coherent conversations sometimes provided comic relief, but other times was simply too ridiculous and the situations seemed contrived.
Because of all the different plotlines being juggled and told at the same time, I felt that there were too many loose ends not tied up at the end of the book. Following all these different storylines proved difficult, but possible - as long as you were concentrating very carefully.
Thought-provoking stuff that raises many questions about issues that arise in today's genetic industries, but the sheer amount of different plotlines and characters muddled the message. 3 STARS

No comments: