January 2, 2007

Review: Michael Crichton's Next

I read (among other things ) Michael Crichton's new novel Next over the holidays. As is always the case with Crichton, the book is a meticulously researched (not to be confused with well researched :P) escapist thriller about the social, ethical, legal (three terms also not to be confused) and technical dangers of some either common or emerging disruptive technology development. His last two novel, Prey and State of Fear were about nanotechnology and global warming, respectively. Next is about transgenics.

Part of the joy of Crichton is that he does provide a lot of background education and details about his field of attack, which is always fun. He is to science and technology what John Stewart is to Network News - there's real information, but fact and fiction are sometimes more than a little entwined.

But make no mistake: the science and plot are riddled with holes, even moreso than the average novel (Crichton or not), and though most thrillers and sci-fi make short shrift of characterizations in favor of plot advancement, Next carries that stereotype to a new level. There are waaaaay too many characters and plotlines, including two characters with the same name, just (as far as I can tell) in order to serve one minor, slightly silly plot point. And the plot is ridiculously riddled with an (literally) unbelievable cacophony of of coincidences required to string it together. But still.... somehow the novel does compel you to turn from one page to the next until the end. The man knows how to keep you reading.

In short, if you're a fan of the Michael Crichton house style - procedural thrillers exploring intellectual ambiguities - chances are you'll enjoy the novel, but not that much. It passes the time, but you won't remember or re-read this book.

If you're not a fan, read something else.

Speaking of which... my favourite Michael Crichton novel, though still adhering to that procedural thriller modus operandi, is the Great Train Robbery. Highly recommended, whether you like Crichton or not - its a very well executed "caper" story with just enough social commentary and periodic detail to engage you in its Victorian era setting. The characters are engaging if a bit archetypal, but that works in favour of the narrative which builds steadily to a crescendo of a conclusion that will have you marveling at its elegance (IMHO, of course). Its a page turner I'd read again and again...

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