Next by Michael Crichton

07/01/07, The Sunday Telegraph

Something has gone very wrong with a book in which you have to hunt for its title with a magnifying glass, so lost is it in the (literally) shining aggrandisement of its author’s name, which is no less (and certainly no more) than a global brand. Next is Michael Crichton’s fifteenth blockbuster, a tale of gene patenting; avaricious and utterly unscrupulous biotechnology companies; transgenic parrots and chimps that can speak, reason, think exactly as humans; stolen cell lines; bounty hunters; good lawyers; bad lawyers; vast thickets of litigation (this is an American book, after all) and a happy ending where the baddies get their comeuppance and the goodies live happily ever after with their transgenic pets and children (America, again).

It is redundant, irrelevant even, to speak of more particulars of the plot because in this lowest common denominator school of writing, particulars hardly matter. Who cares if the women are polarized between fiercely protective mothers and foxy whores? Who cares if gun-toting villains are built like brickhouses while good scientists are owlish, nerdy, bespectacled? Not the Crichton Industry, Inc. That juggernaut rolls on: like the future-generation Big Pharma it excoriates, it is too indutrialised, too powerful to be bothered about dishing up something else.

But an airport novel with short chapters, short sentences, shorter paragraphs (shortest on any kind of complexity or truth) would have been inoffensive enough had it not come with a mind-bogglingly hubristic ‘Author’s Notes’ at the end, encapsulating Crichton’s opinions on the direction government policy on genetics should take, followed by a full-blown bibliography on the science and ethics of genetics. Even T.S. Eliot had a hard time for appending those famously tendentious notes at the end of The Waste Land. It would have been acceptable from a fundamentally serious writer, such as Coetzee or Sebald, but from Michael Crichton? Can money and celebrity really rob thinking beings so comprehensively of every trace of self-awareness that a writer of blockbusters seeks to intervene in policy-making? Crichton has always been renowned for flying seamlessly from a rudimentary launch-pad of scientific truth to the wilder shores of fantasy, which makes for gripping thrillers, but this segue from a god of lucre into the prophet of our biological future beggars belief. At one point in the novel, he has a famous biologist say, ‘[I]n a media-saturated world, persistent hype lends unwarranted credulity to the wildest claims’. No kidding.