Monday, January 07, 2008
I just finished Next, by Michael Crichton. I always enjoy his books and learn something from them, and this was no exception. In this book, Crichton takes a look at the many possible legal, ethical, and scientific ramifications of the completed Human Genome Project. Some of the issues raised include the dilemas associated with universities and companies owning patents to genes, ownership of human tissue, genetic testing as a basis for denying heath insurance and influencing custody cases, and advertising in nature using genetic manipulation. The novel is fast paced with extremely short chapters that bounce between many characters and subplots - some connected and others not. The main story involves Rick Diehl's start-up biotech firm, BioGen, and it's recently acquired license for the Burnett cancer fighting cell line, Jack Watson, his ruthless, manipulative financial backer, Frank Burnett, the man whose cells were sold to BioGen without his knowledge or consent, and his attorney daughter, Alex. In addition to these characters we also meet Dr. Robert Bellarmino, self promoting lead researcher at NIH, researcher Henry Kendall and his transgenic humanzee son, Dave, Josh Winkler and Tom Weller of BioGen, a pair of bounty hunters, and a host of others. Comic relief is provided by a transgenic parrot named Gerard, a bilingual orangutan in the Sumatran jungle, and a host of press releases about the impending extinction of blonds. With about 100 pages to go I found myself wondering how it was all going to come together and be resolved by the end. As it turns out, much is left for the reader to imagine, though we can assume a great deal of litigation will be involved. As for the main characters, we do get some resolution, and some poetic justice. Though not one of his most well written novels (some characters are introduced only briefly then never mentioned again, simply to introduce another possible result of genetic testing) I still enjoyed it and recommend it. Next is available here at the Norton High School Library.