Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Book Review: "Next" by Michael Crighton

I read a few dozen books a year; it's strange that I feel compelled to review Crichton's work and not many of the others.

I should review more books as they keep this blog in the public eye somewhat. My most popular post, with a steady five or six hits a week is the review I did of Guns, Germs and Steel.

Anyway, I have been a fan of Crichton since Jurassic Park. After that book, I went back and read many of his previous books, although not Andromeda Strain for some reason. I enjoyed them all, although State of Fear least of all.

In my review of State of Fear, I stated that Crichton's book are both adventure stories and careful discussions of current issues in science. Typically, both are interesting but even if you don't care for the lecture, the story is thrilling on its own.

This is not true with Next (I couldn't get a link in Firefox and had to use Explorer to do so). In this book, the issues of owning cell lines and genes is examined. There are two transgenic animals - one is a terrifyingly strong chimp-boy who comes to the rescue with monotonous regularity, and a man whose cells are owned by a Californian University along patent disputes, genetic cures and organ smuggling.

There are probably more situations brought up - there are, in fact, too many. In the middle of the book, in two places, a doctor who sold his sperm to a sperm bank is sued by his genetic daughter because he had a gene that increased te likelihood of addictive behavior. His lawyer advises him to settle and this thread in the story is never revisited.

Elsewhere in the story, the daughter of a main character, sixteen years old, is selling her eggs to a clinic to make money for "breast implants". This vignette ends with the parents being angry.

Yet, elsewhere, a coroner is selling body parts without permission.

These three stories are interesting indeed, but disconnected with the main plot line. Doctors from UCLA saved the life of a cancer patient simultaneously using new research and performing new research. They do save his life but his genes are patented - the university owns them, he does not. He becomes involved in corporate espionage and researchers from the university hunt down his family because they carry genes owned by the university. This story is exciting and well done, but it is somewhat hidden as Crichton tries to show all the other confusing and dangerous aspects of genetic research.

Another target of Crichton's concern is the poor job journalists are doing in explaining and researching the issues. Almost as a running gag, he includes clips form newspapers discussing whether blonds will go extinct through the book.

As a further explanation of why I am posting a review, there are two mentions of the infamous Dr Hwang Woo-seok, the cloning researcher who falsified research. See, the book mentions Korea so it is acceptable grist for this mill.

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