Genetics Book Review: Michael Crichton’s Next

NextJust for you, dear reader, I stayed up until 2 a.m. last night finishing Michael Crichton‘s biotech thriller, Next. And although the haters will disdain my lowbrow taste, I must confess that I liked it. Overall, I’d give it a B+.

Compared to the other Crichton books I’ve read over the years (I missed the apparently controversial State of Fear), I think Next is far better thought out with some strong belief statements from the author. The plot is multi-layered and fast paced, much like a TV drama so it was fun and easy reading. But if you separate the wheat from the chaff, there’s quite a lot of chaff that I could have done without like the gratuitous sex and the silly online promos, hence the B+.

When it comes down to the impact of genetics and genomics on society, however, Crichton does an amazing job of covering a lot of ground. I wonder how much of it is beyond the average comprehension of non-science literate reader. The most important section of the book, in my opinion, is the end. No, not because it was finished. :P

In the Author’s Note, Crichton shared his detailed conclusions after doing his research for Next.

  1. Stop patenting genes.
  2. Establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues.
  3. Pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public. He’s referring to results of gene therapy trials.
  4. Avoid bans on research.
  5. Rescind the Bayh-Dole Act (that allows universities to patent and make money off their research).

Following the Author’s Note was the annotated bibliography. This, too, is a valuable resource because Crichton lists the books, the articles, and the internet sources he studied while writing Next. He may have reached different conclusions than some, but you can’t say that he doesn’t do his research. I would never dismiss Crichton as a simpleton even if Genetics and Health wasn’t included in his internet sources. Drat!

Words to describe Next: fun, outrageous, ridiculous, thought provoking, intelligent, and entertaining.

NB: I intentionally left out any plot details because I didn’t want to ruin the story for you. I liked not knowing what to expect. And almost none of Next was expected. But it was amusing to draw parallels between the highly touted NIH genetics researchers and biotech moneybags to real life bigwigs. Needless to say, I don’t take much of what is in Next seriously because it is a work of fiction.

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    • Yvette

      Thanks for the review! I actually enjoyed “State of Fear,” for some of the same reasons you enjoyed this book. No, I do not agree with his overall conclusions about the *fact* of global warming. But many of the issues he brings up about how the alarms are being sounded are on point.

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    • Hsien Hsien Lei, PhD

      Yvette: You’re quick! I was just finishing up the edits and here you are already. I love stalkers. ;)

      To the haters: Life’s too short to take every darn thing so seriously. Have a little fun, a laugh, and keep on reading.

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    • NCurse

      And how about the predictive value of the book? Is it just a fiction or as good as the works of Stanislaw Lem?

    • Darren

      great review – you’ve convinced me to order it – sounds like a good read for the holidays :-)

    • Hsien Hsien Lei, PhD

      NCurse: I don’t think Next is particularly prescient because all the issues brought up alread exist today. He’s just repackaging it in an entertaining, blindingly bright wrapping.

      Darren: Hi! Thanks for the comment. ;) The book’s a bit ridiculous but worth a read even if it’s just to get people to be more aware of what’s going on in the genome revolution.

    • Yvette

      *You’re quick*

      Nah. I bend time. LOL

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    • rahul

      Crichton is a modern day’s maestro. the way he has moved around with plots and sub plots was very smart. I did read State of Fear and it was extremely thought provoking about the enviornment. However with the general enviornment it often led me to question whether Global warmin was really a farce.
      Anyways but talking of Next i would definitely rate it at A-. The promos and the sex were just so as to say a welcome break to some under-read’s like me!

    • rahul

      Id also suggest the readers that you must keep with the book. In the beginning i too was a little bit apprehensive about the events of the book and where was it leading to. Eventually as i reached about 50th page or so it was unputdownable!

    • Hsien Hsien Lei, PhD

      rahul: Thanks for the comments and letting us know what you thought of the book! I thought iwas a fun read too.

    • G. Tavenner

      I was very disappointed in the book “NEXT” . The language used was awful and I was suprised by Michael Crichton’s using such foul language in what seemed to be a good book. I was a “Crichton” avid reader, but now I will re-think my choice.

    • John

      My Brother gave me a copy of Next for Christmas and I would have to agree with the reviewer that the best part of the book was the bibliography and Crichton’s opinions on future actions that should be taken.
      I was disappointed by the plot lines, they were contrived from start to finish to provide story lines that Crichton wanted to explore; all of which were individually good stories but could not and did not fit together reasonably to make a cohesive . It was only by Crichton’s skill as a writer that he managed to make an entertaining, if week attempt at pulling them all together. Not up to the standards that I normally expect from Michael Crichton, but worth a dark disturbing read of a possible near future state of the world.

    • Ken

      ‘Next’ is a amalgam of what I assume Crichton’s ideas on genetic research and its potential. Much of it seems pretty implausible compared to say, cloning dinosaurs. He is a skilled writer though and manages to almost tie together many parallel plot lines and characters. My sense is that Crichton, like Tom Clancy, is getting a bit too preachy and not as interested in spinning a good yarn as he should be.

    • Graham Hume

      I have to say that I thought this book was rubbish. The characters were totally unbelievable and there seemed to be quite a few story threads unfinished. I also thought it was ridiculous that no-one noticed that Dave was a transgenic animal, surely someone would have seen his animal like features . Do yourself a favour and borrow this book from the library so that you won’t waste your money. I’d give this book D-.

    • Dan

      I havent read this book but have ordered it. I recently finished reading “the changeling Plague” by Snye Mitchell. Its on genetics run a muck she published back in 2002/3 ?. She is an amazing writer like Chritonton, She also graduated with a degree in, I think its Physics at the age of 15, and then a masters in Physical sciences at 17 ? Anyway, its a great book. Goes over the edge sometimes, but dont all decent books. So I am primed and ready for NEXT.

    • Dhody Thomas

      Crichton is a genius, but the books may not be all entertainment, I liked the ‘terminator’ and ‘Lost world’, which i read almost 10 years back, both books were half facts and stuff, but the remaining was pure high voltage entertainment, I just ordered “NEXT” i expect the same from him… albeit Crichton’s ‘Airframe’ and some other medical fictions drove me mad…