Friday, May 15, 2009

Off-Topic Novel---Do You Own The Patent On Your Body?

Next, Michael Crichton, HarperCollins, 448 pages, 2006, $29.95.

What's coming next? Twenty percent of all human genes are owned by corporations and universities. It's possible to sell human eggs and sperm online for thousands of dollars. Prenuptial agreement includes testing for genetic predispositions.

Next blends facts with fiction. Economic realities and the presuppositions of morality are set along side the comically bizarre mundane world of scientific research by Crichton. Most readers who have an affinity for property rights will become angry at the CEOs, CFOs of corporations and universities in Next. Crichton focuses upon genetic engineering handled by corporations and lawyers. He challenges what's wrong with Congress' current handling of gene patents and with the laws governing human tissues. There are many plots that share elements of consumerism, finance, research and bureacracy.

Next could be placed on a bookshelf between Dr. Doolittle and The Planet of the Apes. There is a character with mixed human and chimp DNA; it is an intelligent hybrid rescued from a government research lab and is passed off as a fully human child with a defective gene. Another character is Gerard, an unusually bright parrot which does math and knows way to many rock lyrics and lines from movies. The humans at times come off as stock characters who have no or very little development through the novel. Like many Crichton novels Next is driven by what the animals will do next. Yet, readers will probably come away with two questions: How much of this is true? How worried should I feel?

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