Next, by Michael Crichton

Poor old Michael Crichton - he's really fallen foul of genetic modification
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The Independent Culture

Though his backlist includes oddments like an inside-the-drug-culture novel, Dealing, a Victorian true-crime piece (The First Great Train Robbery) and a re-telling of Beowulf (Eaters of the Dead), Michael Crichton has mostly retained his place on the bestseller lists by refining the formula he hit on with The Andromeda Strain in 1970.

The usual Crichton tract is a near-future science-fiction chase thriller that extrapolates from cutting-edge concerns and is often tinged with satire or simple grumpiness about the whizzing speed of advances. Once upon a time, when Crichton had a parallel career as a film director, everything he wrote was a sure sell to Hollywood - though a run of flop adaptations has put a crimp in that. He has reacted by delivering books so all-over-the-place that a professional screenwriter would have a hard time wrestling an action movie out of the tangle.

Next is middling Crichton, perhaps because it lacks the simple suspense situation around which most of his books are constructed. It doesn't even have a real focus, as it ties together anecdotes and musings about transgenic creatures (animals with a percentage of human DNA); the harvesting and sale of human tissues without permission; the patenting of elements of the human genome by pharmaceutical interests; the transformation of university research departments into ruthless commercial entities; genetically derived "cures" for behaviours such as drug addiction; and the genetic manipulation of animals or humans for art, business or pranksterism. Then there are the reliably fiendish triple-dealings of sundry big-business baddies, never happier than when they can make a profit while trampling on the rights of nicer-than-nice good folks.

Crichton does eventually get to the plot. A lawyer and her son go on the run, pursued by a bounty hunter, because a court decision against her father implies that a drug company has a legal right to take cells from their bones. But Next spends a lot of time hopping around the world first, with a thread about a talking monkey in Borneo and a sentient parrot in Paris, before the characters converge for a punch-up that settles everything. The good are rewarded and the wicked punished in time to make room for 14 pages of editorial ("Rescind the Bayh-Dole Act") and annotated bibliography. This is a genetically altered dog's breakfast of a book, with a few good jokes and characterisations thinner than a microscope slide.

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