By Michael Crichton
The final book Crichton published in his lifetime is dreadful. I cannot call it a novel. Crichton, a skilled thriller writer and excellent commentator on modern science, seems to have forgotten that novels must tell a story. His book Next does not; it includes only a few strands of narrative, no characterisation, no real plot and is an excellent example of a lack of imagination. It is heartbreaking to read this from Crichton, the man who imagined the rebirth of dinosaurs (Jurassic Park), an alien spacecraft that manifested our greatest fears (Sphere) and walked the corporate sexual equality line years before anyone else even recognised it (Disclosure). These books showed me, as a teenager, how techno-thrillers could entertain and educate at the same time. Crichton’s achievements are exemplary.
But, Next. Let’s begin with the title – an example of laziness a writer feels when he knows that whatever he scribbles will sell. Next is a terrible title: indistinctive and wrong (much of Crichton’s research is from books published a decade ago).
Next: the narrative. Crichton has very clearly chosen several examples (I can’t count them all) of how genetic research and biotechnology can be used to dramatise a moral drama. For instance: a transgenic chimp-human, a gene therapy that brings on old age while curing addiction, ownership of bio tissue… And then he’s built scrappy little human stories around them, involving themes such as family loyalty and legal spats. But each is so underdeveloped as a thread in the whole that the entire book falls apart at the seams. Sure, several of the stories dovetail (“Woah, the talking transgenic bird just met the talking transgenic ape-man!”). But there is no driving force behind any one of them. The reader must hop between these stories – none of which he feels attached to – which are incoherently tied to Crichton’s SUBJECT. I bet he wrote that word big on a whiteboard somewhere in his Los Angeles penthouse and drew spider legs out of it, each leading to one of these dangling stories. It’s artificial story construction. It’s bad, bad, bad.
Next: characters who are so wooden, so contrived and so undeveloped that you’d feel sorry for them – if only you could. The point is that you don’t care. Here’s a lawyer-mom trying to stop the Evil Corporation stealing bio tissue samples from her son: as a lawyer who takes target practice at the shooting range (“the worst kind”), she’s meant to be a kick-ass, protective bitch. Instead she comes off as stupid and inarticulate (she’s meant to be a lawyer!). It’s just terrible.
I have to end it there. I hope that Next is a mere smudge on Crichton’s otherwise excellent career as a novelist and thinker.