Saturday, May 29, 2010

Next- Michael Crichton

I was thinking about which book I should start with, and I decided to do Next.

An interesting book, Next offers some fascinating insights into modern genetic science. It deals with problems of genetics told from the point of view of several fictitious characters whose lives involve genetics in some way or the other. It shows how genetics could affect people's lives. Some of the issues addressed are genetic patents, illegal testing of drugs, and how ordinary citizens may lose basic rights, like freedom, to private companies.

The book includes a lot of scientific mumbo-jumbo; but somehow, Crichton managed to put it in a way that anyone can understand what he is trying to say. And once you understand what he is trying to say, you start to get scared. There are plenty of ridiculous situations and mind-boggling suggestions which may actually come into reality one day.

Take one of the characters, Dave, who is supposed to be a six year old who suffers from a rare disease whose symptoms include hair all over the body and monkey like behavior. The truth is, he is half monkey. Some scientist thought he could play around with a fetus and then dissect it, but messes things up.

There is also a legal case between a guy, Frank Burnet, and a private company, BioGen. The dispute is that the company is using Burnet's cells illegally without permission. But the court rules in favor of BioGen. Later, the company loses its store of Burnet's cells and assumes it has a copyright over them. This essentially makes it illegal for Burnet, his daughter and grandson to be alive. They assume they can just take their cells.

Crichton has managed to weave together all his arguments in such a way that you believe most of what he is saying as you read along. But later, you start to think that- maybe this is a little extreme. Next shows a world which is starting to enter a new era, an era dictated by genetics. Now that has to be a little exaggerated if you ask me. That’s when I went back to the book's opening words- 'This novel is fiction, except for the parts that aren't.' So, in the end, its' left to you to separate fact from fiction. The reader gets to choose what he or she wants to believe.

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