A Journalist's Archive

Michael Crichton
Reviewed by Kathy Hare

          Michael Crichton's Harvard medical education shines through in a number of his novels.  He skillfully blends science fact with fiction to produce fascinating books that include "The Andromeda Strain," "Jurassic Park," and his latest endeavor "Next."

          In "Next," Crichton combines the most up-to-date DNA research with current medical headlines to produce another blockbuster novel sure to make it to the silver screen. 

          The action begins at a biotech conference in Las Vegas, a fitting spot for an industry encumbered by as much glitz and grime as the city itself.  Jack Watson, who bills himself as a capitalist with a conscience, is working the crowd of scientists and investors by proclaiming, "Biotechnology is booming."    Vasco Borden, a 49 year old private investigator and fugitive-recovery specialist is there to track down Eddie Tolman, a balding 30 year old, who has stolen 12 transgenic embryos.

          The scene then changes to the Los Angeles Superior Court where Frank Burnet, a 51-year old cancer survivor whose body produces powerful cancer-fighting chemicals called cytokines, is fighting to retain ownership of his own cells.  Dr. Gross, a genetic researcher for UCLA, extracted tissue and blood samples from Burnet over the past four years, while never letting on that Burnet has already been cured of leukemia.

          Together with a biotechnology firm called BioGen, Gross used Burnet's cells to develop genetic patents worth over three billion dollars. 

          When the jury decides Burnet's cells no longer belong to him, and he must continue to allow BioGen to harvest his DNA, Burnet takes off for parts unknown.     BioGen hires a bounty hunter to grab Burnet's daughter Alex and her son Jamie in order to procure their genes. While the chase to track-down Alex becomes the central plot of the novel, Crichton introduces a dozen other sub-plots.

          Readers are transported to the Bukut Amam Orangutan Sanctuary in the Sumatran jungle, where American tourists encounter an orangutan that curses at them in French and Dutch. 

          Then it's back to a BioGen lab that is developing a drug to stop addictive behaviors. It is labeled the "maturity gene," and is designed to end bad behaviors such as drug abuse or excessive spending, but unfortunately it has some deadly side-effects.

          One-third of the way through the book I thought I would need a spreadsheet to keep track of all the characters.  But I would advise readers to sit back and enjoy the story line, because Crichton artfully brings all the plots together by the end of the novel.

          In the meantime, the book makes readers think while providing a number of laughs.  There's an African grey parrot that is good at speech and math. He spills the beans about his owner's unfaithful husband.  Then there's a Dr. Henry Kendall who creates his own cross-species son, named Dave, by injecting his DNA into the egg of a chimpanzee. 

          Kendall's wife, an internet specialist, wants to raise Dave out of the glare of the media.  So she invents a disease and plants bogus information about it on the internet.  She then tells school officials her son has Gandler-Kreukheim syndrome, a disease that affects humans by producing body hair and features similar to that of an ape.

          Crichton created this sub-plot to demonstrate the stupidity of relying on the internet as a source for medical information. At the same time, it makes readers wonder what type of world genetic manipulation may create in the absence of ethics.  

          "Next" is fiction. But the industry Crichton writes about is not.  I highly recommend this book, and urge you to read the author's notes at the end of the book.  Crichton raises a lot of questions about a business that blends genetic research with mega profits. 

First published in The New Falcon Herald
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