"Next," Michael Crichton

Pros: Fascinating concepts; does a great job of exploring all the potential ethical problems inherent in messing with genetics
Cons: A bit scattered; too many sub-stories; interconnections were a bit too convenient; some will want to skip over the dry articles
Rating: 3 out of 5

 

For some reason I’m a sucker for medical thrillers. In particular, ones that deal with the worldwide repercussions of outbreaks, nanotech gone awry, genetic experimentation gone wild, etc. Unfortunately, it isn’t as though there’s a convenient sub-category on the bookshelves of Borders for these, or a particular keyword on Amazon, so I often have trouble finding them. I expressed this frustration to some friends, and one of them was kind enough to loan me Michael Crichton’s Next.

As is usually the case with Crichton novels, I definitely enjoyed the experience (and the plots themselves), but the book certainly wasn’t perfect. However, when the genre is so limited, beggars can’t afford to be choosers!


 

Next follows a great many interconnected storylines, each of which delves into a different aspect of the ethical issues that could arise from genetic experimentation. One company insists it owns the rights to a man’s cells, even though he only participated in a research study and never agreed to any commercial use of his cells. When he drops out of sight to keep the company from insisting on taking more of his cells, they assert that since similar cells are present in the man’s descendants, they have the rights to those as well. And they’ll stop at almost nothing to get them.

A young researcher accidentally takes a virus sample from the lab when he has to go get his brother out of jail. His brother, a druggie, takes what he thinks is a drug as soon as the researcher’s back is turned. At first the results seem like a good thing, but soon the researcher’s mother has pushed him into offering the drug to others, and then the side effects become apparent…

These are just two of many plots in Next that touch on modern-day issues of practicality, morality, and ethics in relation to genetics. Unfortunately, while it’s fascinating to see the wide variety of issues addressed, they’re shoehorned into the framework of one novel. I’d dare say, in fact, that this isn’t really a novel at all. It’s an interconnected series of stories. There are so many different people and plots going on that I could hardly remember which was which from chapter to chapter. The coincidental ways in which a number of them intersected with each other also beggared belief. The result felt chaotic and confusing. Instead, I’d have loved to see these separated out and presented as an anthology of stories—I think the result would have been much more coherent and easy to follow.

That said, the characters and plots are interesting and have a decent amount of depth to them. The concepts are fascinating. Crichton does a great job of exploring an extremely wide variety of issues within the pages of one book. If, like me, you’re hankering for one of those few decent biotech thrillers out there, I think Next will at least hold you for a while.

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