Next by Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton’s one fault as a writer is that readers have a hard time caring about his characters. Rarely do the people in his novels have much depth beyond what it takes for them to move the plot along. This is unfortunate because Crichton is an imaginative storyteller who has some neat ideas for his books. Though his characters may not be complex or enduring, Crichton excels at writing about science and technology in clear, crisp, and understandable way that most writers would struggle with. He also excels at bringing to the forefront moral and ethical issues that new technology confronts people with and wrapping an intriguing story around these concerns.

In his latest novel, Next, Crichton explores the brave new world of genetics. Scientists are racing to patent different genes within the human genome as well as cells from ordinary people. There’s big dollars at stake in this game to come up with a breakthrough genetic discovery and people are willing to do just about anything to profit from it.

As scientists monkey around with splicing and dicing genes, trouble is bound to happen. A transgenic human-chimp named Dave is accidentally created along with a talking and math-loving parrot named Gerald -- who is the funniest and the most in-depth character in the entire novel. Defense attorneys blame the sexual attraction to young girls of their client on a recently discovered thrill-seeking gene.

Probably the most frightening aspect of Crichton’s novel takes place in regards to one’s own body. Under current law – and Crichton isn’t making this up – one’s blood samples and other cells that are given for testing purposes can legally be claimed discarded waste and sized via eminent domain by research universities. The university can then profit from their resulting products from tissue samples without ever compensating the person they were taken from. So much for the 13th Amendment. Crichton illustrates this well in a courtroom drama of a former leukemia patient whose cells contain a unique cancer fighting ability but loses the right to do with his cells as he pleases.

Though not one of his better books (Jurassic Park, State of Fear, and Prey are much better), Next is a fast-paced read and very thought provoking. It’s too bad we don’t care about the people in the story as much as we do about the possible moral questions and dilemmas that Crichton raises. But if you’re looking for an entertaining summer read, consider adding Next to your list.