Patterico's Pontifications

4/29/2007

Review of Michael Crichton’s “Next”

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 12:03 am

Recently I read Michael Crichton’s “Next.”

I always enjoy Crichton’s novels, but they follow a predictable formula.

Each of his novels is populated with cartoonish characters who behave in ways that illustrate a particular political point. “Rising Sun” made a political point about the alleged deficiencies of, and dangers allegedly posed by, Japanese culture; “State of Fear” made a political point about global warming and its causes, and so forth.

Crichton makes his points using a variety of rather heavy-handed devices. In every novel you will find an extraordinarily competent person who climbs up on a soapbox and begins to lecture a less competent person about the evils of subject matter “x.” In reality, this character is Crichton himself, using the character as a prop to state his views. Generally, at the end of the book, those views will be repeated in Crichton’s own voice, in an afterward that repeats the arguments made by the competent character, and proposes certain remedies.

Most of the rest of the novel is little more than a fictional illustration of the correctness of the competent character’s arguments. The good guys fight for the philosophy underlying those arguments. The bad guys fight for the principles that Crichton attacks — and often suffer deaths that ironically result from the pursuit of their misguided principles.

The main political point made in “Next” is that awarding patents on genes is unwise, and indeed dangerous to scientific development. This is the high-tech equivalent of my guest blogger Justin Levine’s global jihad on copyright; Crichton’s views are pro-free market, and I’m in sympathy with the argument.

Crichton argues, for example, that patenting genes (and even diseases!) has the effect of inhibiting research, since uncertainty about ownership of genes can cause scientists to direct their efforts to different areas, in an effort to avoid being sued. He says that research on SARS was not as vigorous as it should have been for this very reason.

Crichton makes several related points, regarding the need to establish guidelines for the use of human tissues, to ensure that data about gene testing is made public, that no research should be banned, and that the Bayh-Dole Act (which allows researchers at public universities to sell their discoveries for personal profit) should be repealed.

As much sense as his arguments seem to make, I’m always wary about taking Crichton’s word for the assertions he makes. I’ve always found it hard to rely on the word of someone who believes in paranormal phenomena. Still, that doesn’t mean he’s wrong; it means only that what he says should be taken with a few grains of salt.

The book is a breeze; I read all but 30 of its 420 pages during the flight back to L.A. from Hilton Head Island. Like Crichton’s other books, “Next” appears to have been written with a movie deal in mind; there are no complex characters or shades of grey. You know who the good guys and the bad guys are, and bad guys sometimes (I don’t want to give away any plot details) get their comeuppance in a way that will have the movie audiences laughing and cheering. It is certain that popcorn will be spilled while the audience howls with laughter.

If you have a good chunk of a day to spend — and you know what to expect and don’t mind it — you’ll enjoy this book. Just don’t go into it expecting high literature.

12 Responses to “Review of Michael Crichton’s “Next””

  1. Hey… Einstein belived if the paranormal… I believe Edison did as well… hardly bad company (if you ignore the unwashed massed that believe whatever Springer and Dr Phil tell them).

    I will say that it’s semi-shocking to see his book format spelled out like that. While a ocuple don’t (Timeline) you are correct.

    Doesn’t make State of Fear an less compelling a novel…

    Scott Jacobs (a1de9d)

  2. Crichton is a better polemicist than novelist, I think. “Andromeda Strain” and “Eaters of the Dead” were the last books of his I really liked. But I like having him around because he annoys the right people. Read his speeches about the media, for instance.

    craig mclaughlin (d87c82)

  3. If you find it hard to rely on the word of someone who believes in the paranormal, then that should include anyone with a religious belief.

    More importantly, I think it would be wise to take that grain of salt whenever you’re reading any novel that cites real science – the unchecked power to pick and choose which studies will or won’t support the readers suspension of disblief is much too grand.

    David Markland (ce6847)

  4. I should have been more specific. I am talking about things like spoon-bending.

    Patterico (5b0b7f)

  5. People that don’t believe in the paranormal or miracles have lead a sheltered life.

    I’ve seen things that can’t be explained by our science or by our normal understanding of how and what is.

    And I’m no kook. I’m a logical ex-engineer who has a healthy disbelief of the paranormal and of miracles and other hocus pocus.

    There are some things that can’t be explained in this relm of reality, using our present understanding of things and our jaded outlook.

    But that doesn’t make us stupid, just ingnorant.

    Papa Ray
    West Texas
    USA

    Papa Ray (035e8c)

  6. Crichton…what a shameless creep. http://www.tpmuckraker.com/archives/002156.php

    blubonnet (8d9f79)

  7. Really enjoyed “The Great Train Robbery” in both book and movie form, but he has become more single-minded and preachy over the years.

    Uncle Pinky (6546ec)

  8. What were the political points that were being preached on/against in Andromeda Strain and TimeLines ?

    seePea (38fcb2)

  9. If there’s so much paranormal stuff out there, how come nobody’s won Randi’s $1M prize?

    It’s all tricks and flim-flam, and I’m ashamed to say that I’m as gullible as the next person until someone like Randi explains the trick.

    Daryl Herbert (4ecd4c)

  10. In Pat’s previous post, he said he couldn’t bend spoons. It’s actually pretty easy to do with careful training and focus.

    In fact, Hugh Laurie bent a spoon in the same manner as Uri Geller on A Bit of Fry and Laurie; if you search for [Hugh Laurie Spoon] on YouTube, you’ll get a bunch of versions of it. I recommend doing so before alleging spoon bending is impossible.

    [YouTube has some countervailing videos of poor Uri failing on The Tonight Show; controlled tests interfere with the chakras and spirit entities. Or something.]

    –JRM, who senses that you are thinking of someone with an “R” or a “J,” in their name. Robert or Rod or Roger or Jim or John or Jane. Do you know one of them? If so, I am reaching you right now, via the psychic power of the blog.

    JRM (355c21)

  11. A STATE OF FEAR is a neat little book telling of evil enviromentalists who fake a globl awarming crisis much better then AL GORE rediclous malarkey

    krazy kagu (e7029d)

  12. I’d be more impressed by spoon-bending videos if it weren’t so damned easy to fake it.

    But, yeah, I really wouldn’t ignore a person’s scientific beliefs simply because they believe in the paranormal. Edison built a machine to talk to ghosts. Einstien went to a seance, and his primary complaint was that the paranormal nuts thought that they were able to project a force that didn’t lose much power with distance. Tesla was… well, just nuts in general, but in addition to believing he had a working Theory of Everything and a stungun ray and the best electrical system around (two out of three ain’t bad), also believed in some of the more traditional types of insanity.

    On the other side of things, there are people like Mrs. Clinton, who don’t seem to believe in anything remotely paranormal, yet still get everything else screwed up.

    gattsuru (1be9e7)


Powered by WordPress.

Page loaded in: 0.2591 secs.