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The king of the science thriller returns, but is his crown tarnished?

Author: Michael Crichton

Publisher: Harper Collins

431 pages • £17.99

ISBN: 0-0072-4099-6

Rating:

It was an extraordinary moment. Two
years ago, Michael Crichton published State
of Fear. It revealed that Crichton, the man
who has arguably done more than any
other living author to show the latest
advances in science through fiction in such
novels as Jurassic Park and Prey, had
apparently become a climate change cynic.

Perhaps we should applaud Crichton for
ploughing a lonely furrow, but it did leave
many of his fans who think the evidence
certainly does point to climate-change with
an awkward question – if you think he’s
wrong about this, what else might he have
been wrong about? When you’re talking
about an author who puts reading lists in
his books, it’s an awkward question.

Now consider Crichton’s new novel, Next.
It’s about genetics research, a high-risk
world of cutting-edge science, potentially
huge returns and a place where, as Crichton
tells it, universities and commerce are
linked in dangerous ways. “This novel is
fiction, except for the parts that aren’t,”
reads a brief foreword. Quite… So how do
we tell them apart, Michael?

Sod it, let’s give him the benefit of the
doubt. Especially as some of the issues
involved (particularly the way human
genes are being patented) have been
causing disquiet in sections of the scientific
community for some time. If ever a subject
is ripe for the mainstream, this is surely it.

Leaning heavily on thriller conventions,
Crichton sets about his task with relish.
That’s not to say this is a novel strong on
characterisation, as we’re offered a cartoon
rich bastard, a plucky lawyer and
researchers so nerdish that a transgenic
parrot (a bird with human genes) seems to
have depth in comparison, but that’s not
what Crichton novels are all about. No, what
Crichton does brilliantly is to pile exposition
upon exposition, while keeping enough raw
plot to drive his narrative forward.
Or, to put that another way, Next is
The Da Vinci Code with smarts. Own up,
your guilty-pleasure holiday reading
awaits.

Jonathan Wright

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