On the books of Michael Crichton

Science Comes Second in Next

By Phill Jones

“The novel is fiction,” Crichton says in Next’s disclaimer, “except for the parts that aren’t.”

In its e-book release of Next, HarperCollins publishers included an interview with Michael Crichton. The interviewer tries to get the author to clarify just how much of Next is true and how much is fiction.

“It’s odd but nearly everything in the book has already happened, or is about to happen,” Crichton replies. “The book does look to the future a bit, particularly with regard to some transgenic animals that become important characters. But for the most part, Next is not really speculative fiction at all.”

Oh, really?

Next is a stew of speculation; it’s only lightly seasoned with true science. Next’s chatty apes, for instance, have a closer kinship to the surgically transformed Beast Men in h. G. Wells’s The Island of Doctor Moreau than to bona fide genetically engineered animals.

Let’s take a look at some of those parts of Next that aren’t fiction.

A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Real Transgenic Animals

Way back in 1981, Jon Gordon and Frank ruddle minted the term “transgenic” to describe a mouse that they had modified by inserting a foreign gene into the animal’s DNA. By the early 1990s, scientists routinely produced transgenic animals with one or more foreign genes, called transgenes. Some transgenic animals did not acquire new genes; they had one or more genes deleted by genetic engineering. Contemporary transgenic animals possess any defined genetic modification.

Although transgenic animals exist, they tend to be less flamboyant than the stars of the Next  …

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