It is years since I have read a book by Crichton and there was a time I devoured anything I could get my hands on. This is one I had been meaning to read for several years, this and State of Fear seeing as it has become the climate denialists bible of conspiracy. The premise of this book is really not so different from the others, technology – check; conspiracy – check; evil corporate / government entity determined to restrict what should be freely available knowledge – check.
The most intriguing part of this book is the growing unease of genetic engineering. At the end of the book, Crichton says that he does not have a problem with genetic science or genetic engineering per se, but of the rights of big businesses to patent the building blocks of life. Whether you are anti-GMO or pro gene therapy for debilitating illnesses, I am sure we can all sympathise with this position of businesses attempting to seize power over us and patent every aspect they could possibly get away with. This book explores such a in a “what if?” scenario that is fairly standard fair from what you might expect from a book written by the world’s most famous technology-conspiracy fiction.
There are a lot of downsides here, the book seems to take a while to get going and even now that I have finished, I am struggling to truly sum up what it was about. There was no main plot thread as we might conventionally understand it. Instead it lurches from seemingly unrelated event to a conversation to a meeting and then to another seemingly unrelated event interspersed with news articles to illustrate the point that the public at large do not understand genetics. In short, it doesn’t really appear to have much of a story and I kept wanting for something clear and definitive to happen to show us what the story was about. This is really quite surprising because it is an easy read and before you know it, you’ve ploughed through another 100 pages. I started this on New Year’s Day and read over 100 pages very quickly. Then I put it down for a few weeks while I finished Hitch-22.
The characters are pretty one-dimensional. Some might argue that this is to be expected from a Crichton novel who, after all, is more concerned about technology and conspiracy, but he has created some fairly interesting characters in the past. This book feels more like it was trying to adapt to a more Dan Brown style of writing. None of the characters have much of a personality to speak of and it is sometimes confusing about who is who because we struggle to tell them apart. It is rare I need to go back to an earlier chapter to remind myself who is who. Quite why Crichton felt this shift of style necessary I do not know because his previous formula – for me at least – worked quite well.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad book but I can’t give it more than 2/5 because of its critical flaws. It is very easy on the eye at times, it presents some strong ideas about current developments in genetic technology and it has some interesting research into the bigger ideas and problems currently being discussed at national and global levels regarding the ethics and legality, not just of genetic research, but also about what rights businesses might have or attempt to claim in their research. Can you claim intellectual rights on the building blocks of life?