Author: Michael Crichton
RRP: 6.99
ISBN: 978 0 00 724100 2
Available 06 August 2007

Blondes are becoming extinct, whilst the number of talking primates who can swear in French is on the increase. In this brave new world if you don't pay attention corporations will steal your genetic material and make millions. The new frontier is genetics, but who will control what is done and to who? The only one constant appears to be that if there is money involved corporations will stop at nothing to steal your bone marrow. First it was baby sheep, then stem cell research, will you be next?...

There are a number of writers who have so mined the vein of their genre that they have become masters. Stephen King always has something nasty happening in New England, fog, dogs et al and Michael Crichton excels in the field of "isn't science scary when humans get their tiny mitts on it?"

Crichton's latest book, Next, focuses on the anxiety creating subject of gene therapy, the latest scare which has produced a Luddite reaction in a vast section of the general public.

The book is well researched evidenced by the bibliography which accompanies the novel - though a lot of the information, being of a specialist nature, will go right over most peoples heads. I have a medical background and still found some of the information obscure, but Crichton does what he can to make the information meaningful to the plot and for the most part succeeds. There are also citations for the reproduced articles which are dotted about the book and although they do little to advance the plot their inclusion is often used to illuminate a situation or to put it into some context.

Crichton has written some very lucrative and successful books, including Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strains and Prey. A lesser man might have retired on the back of this, but Crichton's search for a new subject never seems to end. The book is not to be taken too seriously. For instance, one of the better characters is an orang-utan which can swear at you in two different languages. And the idea that blondes are to be extinct can be taken with a pinch of salt even though there is a reference to it. I think part of Crichton'[s thrust is to highlight just how susceptible some folks are at accepting as gospel anything they read in print or on the Internet. A healthy level of scepticism is always required for the inquiring mind.

The overall impression of the book is that it is a competently written beach/aeroplane novel with lots of characters, though little in the way of character development. Sad to say that it is not one of his best books, but then this is all a matter of taste. Crichton fans will find little in the way to complain about, as would anyone who just wants a book that they can pick up and read for ten minutes. The book is structured so that it delivers the story in small sections with relatively short paragraphs and chapters, and this is its biggest weakness. With the action jumping all over the place it is very easy to forget just what is going on and, as has been previously noted, this style is at the expense of character development.

That said, it still remains an interesting, enjoyable and witty read.

Charles Packer

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