Friday, July 2, 2010

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park
© 1990 Michael Crichton
399 pages


To the south, rising above the palm trees, Grant saw a single trunk with no leaves at all, just a big curving stump. Then the stump moved, and twisted around to meet the new arrivals. Grant realized he was not seeing a tree at all. He was looking at the graceful, curving neck of an enormous creature rising fifty feet into the air. He was looking at a dinosaur.  (p. 80)

Professor Alan Grant has spent his life digging in remote desert environs, looking for fossils that offer clues into the lives of dinosaurs. Carefully extracting specimens from the ground, he pieces the puzzles of anatomy and behavior together. His job is made a little easier by enthusiastic supporters like John Hammond, an eccentric old billionaire who finances dinosaur digs all over the world -- although Hammond can be a trifle annoying at times, pestering Grant with questions of what a particular species of dinosaurs might eat, especially as newborns. What possible need could the man have for that sort of information?

When a lawyer in the employ of Hammond visits Grant's latest dig and offers him a substantial fee to visit a resort of Hammond's over the course of a weekend, he reluctantly accepts: that much money will go a long way in maintaining his research. What he, his graduate student, and a quirky mathematician find when they arrive at the resort is beyond belief: a theme park the size of an island, where plants and animals dead for 65 million years live again. Advances in genetic engineering and a novel approach to obtaining dinosaur DNA have allowed Hammond to clone dinosaurs and artificially incubate them. His goal is a worldwide empire of theme parks filled with biological attractions, but his first has yet to see the public. He has all the problems of an amusement park and all the problems of a zoo, the latter particularly difficult in that no one has ever maintained hundreds of dinosaurs in captivity. Hammond responds to his investors' doubt and concerns about the park's delayed opening by inviting his team of consultants -- Grant and company -- to take the first tour.  A palaeontologist's approval will go far in soothing their fears.

As impressive as Jurassic Park may be, a system so complex - being a heavily automated park controlled by central computers maintaining a firm hand on a delicate ecosystem -- is doomed to fail at some point, at least in the opinion of Ian Malcolm, the mathematician and chaos theorist invited to tour the park. Malcolm's cassandra-like warning comes to pass (as such warnings are wont to do) when deliberate sabotage on the park of an employee rendering the park's security network inoperative coincides with a massive storm, imperiling not only the tourists but everyone on the isle. Grant, Malcolm, and the rest must pit human technology and intelligence against the dinosaurs' own brute strength, devastating quickness,  surprising array of biochemical defense mechanisms, and intelligence. The struggle for existence is a brutal one -- even in the artificially created Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park is my first read by Michael Crichton, whom I have ignored in the past out of the impression that his works were too technical for reading comfort. I don't know what gave me that impression, but Jurassic Park was a breeze even while employing more scientific exposition than your usual novel. Although my reading experience was augmented by having watched the movie only a night prior, I enjoyed it to the point that I will be browsing Crichton's other works. The book's introduction gives the text the feel of a warning against the dangers of uncontrolled genetic engineering on the part of companies, perhaps an explicit message on Crichton's part. I've not read any of his other works, so I don't know if he employs his novels as warnings or messages in this manner. We'll see, for I plan on looking at The Andromeda Strain next week.

3 comments:

  1. I thought that the book was much better than the film because the author has time to go into the science bit. It's what made it for me. The film was fun, but the book was interesting.

    I stopped reading him when he went all sceptical about Global Warming.

    The Andromeda Strain is *very* good - if dated. Loved the film too.

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  2. I noticed that while reading: the book as a whole was more interesting, particularly when covering scenes the movie ignored -- like the aviary. The struggle with the computer network and electricity are done better in the book, too.

    AND the book doesn't have that "Ah-ah-ah! You didn't say the magic word!" scene.

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  3. Hi Smellin Coffee! Thank you so much for the SC link. I watched part of it and I'll watch the rest later. I'm grandbaby sitting at the moment. I'm glad to see you are still reading up a storm. I love your takes on American thinking! I can't believe how fast you whip through books! I'm hoping you are doing well. Now that school's out for the summer, I have more time for book blogs. Happy 4th!

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