‘Next’ between science, fiction | VailDaily.com
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‘Next’ between science, fiction

Larry Ebersole Vail Daily, Vail Colorado
Special to the DailyMichael Crichton's "Next" centers on the fight for ownership over the cancer-fighting cells, and plays out stories that are common in the news today.
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After sitting in the dark for a couple of hours with a tub of buttered popcorn and 32 ounces of soda, the film based off Michael Crichton’s earlier novel “Jurassic Park” seemed to be remotely possible, enough to make the audience wonder for awhile anyway. “Next” takes us to that point of possibility again, only this time it is into the future of biogenic research. The novel brings to mind the stories we are hearing played out weekly in the news, and then takes us a little bit further. The story is clearly a work of fiction but is reinforced by the author’s research into the fields of genetic research and in the Author’s Notes. This gives the plot a cornerstone built around scenarios that could easily be believable as current events and allows the ascension to the crazier moments of talking birds and bounty hunters without seeming completely unrealistic. The story centers on the fight for ownership over the cells of Frank Burnett. His particular line of cells produces powerful cancer-fighting chemicals called “cytokines” and are deemed to be extremely valuable to the Biogen Company. Along the way we meet an orangutan that speaks Dutch and a transgenic monkey-boy reminding us of the fantastic and overreaching ideas that can come from pondering the possibilities of genetic research.Realistic, though hopefully avoidable, scenarios arise throughout the story. Character Tom Weller’s father tested positive for a gene determined to cause heart disease and with this information his health insurance company cancels his policy, having determined Tom to be pre-ill. This is the world of “Next,” in which biogenetic companies are all competing for patents on the genes they isolate, and then finding a way to market them. The company that isolates the gene associated to “conventional wisdom” markets it as the “comfort gene.” There is plenty of action throughout the story keeping the reader moving from chapter to chapter; they are short as there are 94 in all, and the story will engross you and seem to move very quickly.

Inserted within the story text are mock press releases and newspaper articles written as though this story is really happening and gives the reader the perspective the public would come to know as it would be played out in the news. On page 124 is a press release for the scientists who grew a miniature ear in their lab.The Author’s Notes in the back of the book demonstrate real world parallels to the story. One such example noted is that research on SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) was affected because scientists were unsure who owned the genome, so research was not as vigorous as it could have been in the beginning due to patent fears.There is a lot in “Next” I could imagine actually happening, but there is a major element of the story that is just plain entertaining. I wanted to review a book that would be a great companion on a trip or vacation, something that would be fun for people spending their holidays in Summit County and this book certainly provides. As I admitted earlier, I saw the movie version of Michael’s earlier novel “Jurassic Park,” but after the enjoyment of reading his new novel I just might go back and actually read about the dinosaurs.

================”Next” by Michael CrichtonHarperCollins431 pages

Copyright 2006Hardcover $27.95===================


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