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BOOK REVIEW :: Next

Posted by Hex on January 28, 2010

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After completing Seifer’s biography on Tesla, I thought it would be a while before I finished another book to review. However, a mere 48 hours later, I find myself a book deeper into my repertoire after grinding through Michael Crichton’s 2006 bio-thriller, Next. Like any Crichton classic, Next is no lightweight, coming in just over 500 pages. The rate at which I devoured it is a testament to its intensity and the way it truly captivates the reader.

In the Crichton tradition, he creates a complex science-fiction story, not taking place in some far distant future, but today. Science-fiction, I argue, is the wrong genre to file Crichton under, as it leads the imagination to far off worlds, Flash Gordon, and alien marauders. In recent years, the phase “speculative fiction” has gained notoriety as contemporary science-fiction that utilizes actual science to justify story elements. In Next, the science under the microscope of scrutiny is genetics. While one of the characters would blend in well with Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau, it’s not the science that Crichton condemns, but the corporate perversion of the scientific method from a pursuit for truth to a pursuit for profit.

Having finished my fourth Crichton novel, Prey, not too long ago, I felt I had a pretty good idea of how the story would flow, with a limited third person narrative that follows a primary character which occasionally hops to others, but with a definitive “main character.” This was not the case with Next, where there was really no distinct main character, with one main story, but over a dozen interconnecting stories each with a wealth of colorful, unique, and real characters. The very structure of the storytelling is a devise used to relate to the reader how interwoven the subject matter of modern genetics and its problems are today.

With a dozen stories, Crichton is able to take a grapeshot on contemporary genetics, from the patenting of genes, to transgenic experimentation, to the murky legal environment on genetics, to the now corporate role many educational institutions are taking on the topic. It all seems unbelievable. However, on a recent episode of NPR’s Science Friday a topic that would have eerily fit into Crichton’s pages was discussed: a legal patent battle very similar to the fictitious battle over the genetic cells of a specific person in Next. That harrowing coincident alone makes Crichton’s following warning all the more haunting:

Welcome to the our genetic world. Fast, furious, and out of control. This is not the world of the future – it’s the world right now.

Another element that I enjoyed was the scattering of excerpts of news articles throughout the book. While some were fictitious articles meant to reflect events in the book, others were based off of actual articles, adding to the authenticity of the cautionary tale. They sometimes acted to supplement subject matter touched by the story, while other times they were a foil which reflected the ridiculous manner in which the press twist information on science that they don’t fully understand.

Enjoying this novel doesn’t hinge on your educational background; in fact it assumes you have none. Vivid characters, compelling and thrilling stories, and subject matter that keeps you thinking on through to Crichton’s editorial “Author’s Notes” are all elements that make this book stand out amongst his impressive catalog. With his message more relevant today than it was four years ago, this is one story I highly recommend picking up.

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