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Book Review: Next

Next by Michael Crichton, HarperCollins (November 28, 2006),448 pages

In Shekhar Kapur’s first film, Masoom, the character played by Naseeruddin Shah brings home his illegitimate son and  upsets everyone in the family. In Next, scientist Henry Kendall brings home Dave and his wife of fifteen years, Lynn Kendall asks the question, “This monkey is your son?”

When the human genome was decoded, scientists discovered that the genome of a chimpanzee was separated from that of a human being by only five hundred genes. There was then the question of whether humans and chips could hybridize to make a humanzee. While on sabbatical at the National Institute of Health, doing research on autism, Henry inserted his genes into a chimpanzee embryo.

He had expected to fetus to die, but it survived resulting in Dave, a transgenic chimp who could talk. That’s not the only genetic oddity in Michael Crichton’s new work of fiction (except for parts that aren’t). The others who enthrall us include Gerard, the talking parrot, a talking chimp sighted in Java, and turtles carrying fluorescent advertisements on their shells in Costa Rica.

After handling dinosaur’s, nano particles, and global warming, Crichton shows us what is happening in the field of genetics and what the future holds for us. He presents a scary world.

After knowing that a doctor at UCLA sold his cells to a drug company, Frank Burnett sues the University of California. The court rules that a person has no rights over his tissue once it has left his body. When Frank Burnett vanishes, the drug company sends bounty hunters to collect cells from his daughter or grand child since according to them they own the cells in their body.

The  use of genetic information is pushed to the limits when spouses demand genetic tests for divorce cases and a person accused of being a pedophile tries to blame it on a gene. Then there is also the company which is testing a retrovirus carrying a gene which would enhance maturational behavior and another company wants to run advertisements on fishes moving over a coral reef through genetic modification.

Though justice is served on predictable lines, what makes Crichton’s thrillers interesting is the fact that like all his previous novels, they get into an area of science that is new and is going to revolutionize our world. He makes the science easy to read and through his fiction and shocks us about the ethical dilemmas it is going to create and shows how unprepared we are to handle those issues

Unlike his other novels where there is a single story thread, this one is more like Paul Haggis’s Crash with multiple story lines with a large number of characters. Some of the characters like the Burnetts, and Kendalls, the transgenic ape Dave and the talking parrot stay till the end, while some characters like Mark Sanger,  the Berkeley based college dropout, and Raza Rashid, the first year medical student involved in stealing body parts from cadavers make transient appearances.

Character development is minimal and with such a large cast, sometimes you tend to forget who is who. The chapters are short like The Da Vinci Code and once you read the first page, you are hooked. At the end of this topical book, which is better than most of his recent works, you will come out disturbed and will start paying attention to genetic research in the news.

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