Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Guest Blogger's Review: Next

I just read Michael Crichton’s 2006 ‘thriller’ Next about genetic engineering including interspecies hybrids, cloning and gene therapy, plus other topical issues like DNA testing, sperm donors and selling eggs.

I’m not sure what made me pick up the book, other than there is a monkey on the cover and I like monkeys, but the clever use of the barcode also grabbed my attention… as humans, we are a product of our DNA and perhaps symbolically caged by it. But my fascination with cover art is not really relevant!

As expected from Crichton, he takes a dense subject and somehow manages to make it understandable but the story tends to suffer under the large cast of characters and multitude of subplots. We have the greedy big-business investor who resorts to sabotage to gain control of a biotech company run by an unscrupulous geneticist going through a divorce and wants to use her genetic defects as a way to gain custody of their children. The biotech research technician discovers through the use of unapproved methods that their gene therapy treatment cures addictive behavior in humans but has fatal consequences. Then there’s the sharp, ethical lawyer who ends up on the other side of the system when a slick yet bumbling bounty hunter goes after her and her son because they contain the same genetic material as her miraculous father who disappeared after she lost a court case where his cancer-curing cells were awarded to the biotech company because he signed a document allowing them to utilize his tissues during cancer treatment. We also have the researcher who used his blood to create a “humanzee” hybrid and he has to rescue his ‘son’ from the laboratory before they destroy monkeyboy, the evidence of his non-sanctioned testing.

Is your head spinning? Well, there are even more subplots, but that’s enough to prove that a lot is going on in this novel. Some storylines are dropped with a quick sweep under the carpet while just a few are wrapped up in an ending tailored for a Hollywood movie.
So maybe it’s not the best drama/suspense/action story but it is a well crafted social commentary on the ethical and legal issues of genetics research. Crichton challenges us to think about how far we are willing to go in treating our bodies as products and at what price tag. Is it ok to patent genes? In what way can human tissues be used for research purposes? Should certain types of research be banned? Should academics be allowed to profit from research like corporations? If you want to know Crichton’s point of view, then you should read the book. -- d.Mix

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