Thursday, November 16, 2006

Next: Michael Crichton and Genetics

Back in September, HarperCollins announced the new Michael Crichton thriller, Next, would be released on November 28. As reported by galley cat:
"Prepare to enter a world where nothing is as it seems and a new set of possibilities is opening up at every turn," the publicity department warns us. "Next challenges your sense of what is happening, what is true and what is ethical." Along the way, they ask a couple goofy questions—"Are blondes becoming extinct? Is everyone at your dinner table of the same species?"—but, personally, I think this one'll turn out to be the kicker: "Could you and your family be pursued cross country just because you happen to have certain genes in your body?"
In preparation for the book launch, HarperCollins has put up a web site for the fictional biotech company, NEXTgencode, with the slogan: "Your Destiny Is No Longer in Question". The site links to sensationalistic genetics news articles, such as the much derided news report on the potential for "Blonds Becoming Extinct" and "Human and Chimps Interbred Until Recently" (with "recent" meaning 4 million years ago).

At the Women's Bioethics Blog ALong points out that, if nothing else, the new novel should spur discussion:
Given Crichton’s ability to quickly put his finger on the pulse of hot topics in popular science -The Andromeda Strain (about a scary virus), Jurassic Park (genetically engineered dinos) Prey (nanotech gone amuck) State of Fear (global warming = scientific conspiracy) etc, I think this book is likely to generate a great deal of interest in genetic engineering and questions of ethics.
"Science run amok" and amoral scientists are common themes in Crichton's novels, and I'm sure Next won't be any different. It would be nice if Crichton gets more of the actual science right than in his most recent bestseller, State of Fear, but I'm not holding my breath.

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