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November 28, 2006

No laughing matter

The print edition of the Washington Post leads into this review of Michael Crichton's novel Next, which tells the story of a young "transgenic" creature who is part human and part chimp, with the line "Michael Crichton monkeys around with gene therapy." Har! The actual review keeps up this tone, as reviewer Patrick Anderson seems disinclined to take the book too seriously:

As I read Michael Crichton's new techno-thriller, I kept thinking about those carnival midways I explored as a lad in Texas. You know, the kind where pitchmen stand outside tents and yell, "Step right up, folks, only 25 cents, come see the Fat Lady, come see Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy!" Crichton wants to warn us about the dangers of genetic engineering, but he's also a big-league novelist determined to sell the 2 million copies his publisher reportedly has ordered. He has therefore put forth this mishmash of a book that is part lecture, part satire and mostly freak show. . . .

Crichton's previous novel "State of Fear" ridiculed warnings about global warming and led many environmentalists to attack him. In this book he retaliates with a murky satire about a "Neanderthal gene" and evidence that "the Neanderthals were the first environmentalists." As the freak show continues, an artist creates "a transgenic rabbit called Alba that glowed green," cockroaches are sold as pets (by nutty environmentalists who say that "the real danger of global warming is that we may render so many insects extinct," dogs are created that never grow beyond puppies (they're called Perma-Puppies), and a scientist ponders a new gene that will make his girlfriend orgasmic.

I haven't read Next or any other Crichton novels, so I don't know to what extent Anderson is justified in disparaging its literary merits, or in claiming that the "freak show" elements outweigh the narrative and social commentary. But I do know that a lot of the "freak show" stuff isn't just a fantasy, and that whether Anderson sees the seriousness of it or not, it is indeed very, very serious.

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So read some Crichton novels, already. You can't very well criticize either them, nor the critics if you haven't.

They vary in quality and readability, but everyone needs some light reading in life.

_State of Fear_ does NOT ridicule, but it is didactic. "Show, don't tell, Mr. Crichton! You aren't writing for the Christian bookstore market!", _Jurassic Park_ is far better with more philosophical questioning then the movies. _Congo_ seems a waste of fine trees, _Andromeda Strain_ was pivotal in its day, and _The 13th Warrior_ is an enjoyable investigation of current theories of Neandertals and European folklore, in the form of a novel.

Gina Dalfonzo

As I'm already drowning in light reading -- I have to wade through piles of it just to reach my bed -- I'm afraid it's going to have to wait. All I really wanted to say for now was that if anyone thinks the things Anderson brings up in his review aren't real and serious, they're making a big mistake. But thanks for weighing in. I was hoping some Crichton readers would.


You have a point! :-)

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