"Next" by Michael Crichton
Rating: 3.5 Water Towers
Reality meets fiction.
I was watching KCRA-TV (Sacramento, CA) this past Friday morning when they aired a segment featuring genetically altered cats that glowed in the dark (fluorescent).
Two basic, and very scary, questions raised are:
- Who owns your cells?
- Can we genetically produce mixed human-other species individuals?
“Next” takes us on a winding path involving multiple characters and situations.As you read this it would be wise to take note of the characters.There are many, some with the same name, and it can get confusing.To that end, I will not unravel the mystery, just be aware that the many pieces come together at the end, and very nicely.
In the story, BioGen Lab has claimed ownership of the “Burnet line” of genes. Several years ago, Frank Burnet came down with T-cell lymphoblastic leukemia (cancer of the bone marrow). Dr. Michael Gross at UCLA Medical Center, was a specialist in this disease and treated /tested Frank every six months over a period of several years.Over time, Frank recovered (on his own) and also became suspicious as more and more forms needed to be signed.At one point Frank refused to sign, and the treatment/testing stopped.
As we find out, Dr. Gross was selling Franks cells to a drug company BioGen.
The estimated worth of Frank’s cells is $3 Billion.No drug has come out of the Burnet line, but, several advancements have been made, not counting the money.
In parallel stories, we meet several transgenic individuals.A talking orangutan, a talking grey parrot named Gerard, and a very human chimpanzee, Dave.We also meet genetic researchers who propose to genetically alter nature to carry brand names.For example, all jaguars can have Jaguar, the car manufacturer’s logo, genetically altered to appear on their bodies.Fish can carry logos of, for example, Mike’s Fishhouse.There have been experiments on turtles where their shells glowed in the dark with what looks like a corporate logo.All of this was fiction to me…..until last week.
The events in “Next” happen at breakneck speed and collide at the end.
Dave’s human father, researcher Henry Kendall, kidnaps Dave from the research facility where he was living (and scheduled to be put to sleep).Henry and his wife, Lynn, “adopt” Dave and formulate a fake disease to explain Dave’s abnormal appearance which Lynn plants in the Internet as support.Dave attends school with Jamie, the Kendalls other son.This experience is not without major problems as children make fun of Dave, and, try to beat up Jamie.Dave is not one to shy away from a fight while protecting Jamie.Dave is very strong and athletic.
Gerard, escapes from danger several times (remember he is pretty smart, even helping his owner’s son with his math homework) and ends up flying to a San Diego Spa perching next to a normal parrot and eating his fill of orange slices.
The BioGen line of Burnet cells is contaminated and thus destroyed. This leads BioGen to seek more cells. But Frank has disappeared, so the only source of cells (that BioGen claims they own) belong to Frank’s lawyer daughter, Alex, or her son, Jamie (yes, another Jamie). BioGen hires a bounty hunter, Vasco Borden, to get either Alex or her Jamie’s cells via a forced biopsy.
The chase to get Alex, or her son’s cells, ends up in San Diego with all the participants coming together at the San Diego Spa. Very cool ending. All my questions during the book where answered. For example: Why are there two Jamie’s? What happens to Gerard and Dave? What happened to the orangutan? Did cavemen really prefer blondes?
“Next” is a very good book, and, as it turns out, very informative.Mr. Crichton is not without opinions and his are the following (I quote):
- Stop patenting genes.
- Establish clear guidelines for the use of human tissues.
- Pass laws to ensure that data about gene testing is made public.
- Avoid bans on research.
- Rescind the Bayh-Dole Act.
If you want to see a future that may be very frightening, I highly recommend “Next” as your next book to read.
See this Wikipedia entry on Genetically Modified Organisms.