Thursday, February 26, 2009

Educational and thought-provoking

Next by Michael Crichton

I'm another one of those readers who looks forward with anticipation to see what subject Michael Crichton takes on in each successive novel. I feel like he, more than anyone else, has his finger on the pulse of the future. I believe he sees what is going on in science, technology, and our culture and draws logical, if disturbing, projections about the pitfalls ahead. In Next, Crichton takes on several different aspects of genetic research, and there is plenty of grist for his mill.

Many readers and reviewers have criticized Next as having too many characters and too many subplots going on. This is actually a strength. The novel is the literary equivalent of films like Crash and Syriana, that take on huge topics by creating a pastiche of interrelated characters on all sides of the issue. In Next, those characters include researchers in many shades of gray on the scale between good and evil. There are many individuals who stand to profit financially from this new science. There are interesting explorations of the legal ramifications of this emerging technology. We are even introduced to some amazing transgenic animals.

When I read Prey, I was amazed by the potential of nanotechnology. I am wowed again by the potential of genetics. But as with everything that involved money and power, there's a very real dark side citizen's need to be aware of. There are gray areas in the ethics of this research. As always after reading a Crichton novel I feel better educated about these issues. I feel I've actually learned something in a thoroughly entertaining way. Because I was entertained. The story being told had me fully engaged and the short chapters kept everything moving at a brisk pace.

Now, I can explore some of the books in Crichton's bibliography of Next to explore the non-fictionalized aspects of these important issues. Even if you don't feel like reading a bunch of science books, it would be well worth your time to read Next.

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