Michael Crichton is widely known for his controversial, cutting-edge stories that blend technology with thrilling plotlines. With memorable stories like dinosaurs making a comeback in Jurassic Park, murderous gorillas attacking scientists in Congo, and archeologists who travel back to the Middle Ages in Timeline, Crichton has a big reputation to live up to. With his multi-faceted, sure-to-be-talked-about new offering, Next, Crichton has met the expectations set out for him and more.
Next is set in a world that may be in the future but may also be much closer than we think. It centers on the rapidly changing world of genetics, where human tissues can be owned by corporations, giant, genetically modified insects are being sold as pets, and a spray exists that may be able to cure people of addictions but also causes them to age at an alarming pace. With a long list of characters and plotlines, Next explores a family who has just been joined by a human/chimpanzee hybrid created by the scientist father, a mother and son on the run so bounty hunters cannot claim their highly sought-after genetic material and an enhanced parrot who helps his ownerís son with his math homework. This is just a sampling of the different plots that run through Next, exploring the possibilities that are already being explored by scientists and those that are just years (or less) away from being realized. Crichtonís novel is not only a breathless, inventive thrill ride, itís also a warning about what will happen if we continue on at the pace we are.
Crichton does an excellent job of taking an inherently confusing subject and making it accessible to the average reader who has little to no understanding of genetics. He effortlessly blends fact with fiction and manages to educate and warn readers while still keeping them entertained. However, the story does get confusing due to the fact that Crichton employs a whole host of characters. Itís nearly impossible to keep them straight, or for them to become much more than cardboard cutouts since none of them get a lot of page time. Itís also a bit difficult to keep straight all the different storylines that are taking place, though Crichton does a decent job of tying most of them together in the end. I canít help but think that Crichtonís theme could possibly have been better explored by taking a single one of his plots and delving deeper into it and the characters involved in it.
Though Next itself does an admirable job of presenting a good story without getting preachy or telling readers what to think, Crichton ruins this by including a lecturing Authorís Note full of difficult-to-understand terms that ends up taking away from the story instead of clarifying the authorís position on issues, as he probably intended. I would have been left with a more positive impression of the book if the note hadnít been included, or if I had skipped it altogether.
Next upholds Crichtonís reputation as an intelligent, controversial author who isnít afraid to push the envelope. Anyone who enjoys techno-thrillers or just an inventive story should pick up Crichtonís latestójust skip the Authorís Note if you donít feel like being confused and told what to think at the same time.