Next is best described not as a novel, but as a series of events that illustrate the negative consequences of playing with genetics. Crichton offers up a multitude of characters and scenarios who all point to different ways that science can go wrong. Admittedly, I’m no scientist, so I can neither agree nor disagree with those who have accused Crichton of poor science, but I can recognize poor writing when I see it and methinks I see it here.
First, let me attempt to explain “the plot.” We have a family with a genetically modified bird who considers himself an individual and is capable of completing math problems. Some ethical ambiguity arises. We have a lot of random scientists who get in trouble for various testing snafus that have not been fully explored by the legal system. Some legal ambiguity arises. We have a man-chimp, illegally created, that is very intelligent and human, but who is still quite capable of savagery. Some moral ambiguity arises. See where this is going? Add about 10 more of these situations, give or take a few, and you have the book.
My problem with Next is not that it involved so many different plots, but rather that the entire novel seemed like a presentation of different scenarios despite its efforts. It attempted to be a unified whole, but it still seems like Crichton is constantly saying, “Here’s something bad that can happen when we play with genetics. Got that? Good, now here’s something else.”
Crichton attempts to resolve the multitude of plot lines into a single story at the end, but this attempt seems weak and half-hearted. He contrivedly manages to bring a few storylines together, but he also doesn’t bother with quite a few of them. That’s not to say that Next was altogether awful; in fact, it is remarkable simply because, as far as shoddy plots go, the different plotlines were pretty interesting (at least to someone who doesn’t know much about the subject matter). Maybe I would have liked it more if he hadn’t tried to unite the plotlines at all, in favor of just letting them stand as unique entities. Doing so would also help better integrate the two-dozen or so non-fiction articles that pepper the novel, ostensibly to ground the text in fact. But, again, I really don’t know enough about genetics to know how biased is his view, as suggested by other reviews I’ve read.
In a nutshell: Enjoyable, so long as you aren’t expecting too much from it.
Bibliolatry Scale: 2 out of 6 stars