JURASSIC PARK and THE LOST WORLD, by Michael Crichton.
Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is one of my favourite movies, and I compulsively reread Crichton’s original novel instead of doing schoolwork when it first came out in paperback. I remember looking forward to the sequel — there was a long waiting list for a copy at the library in Jamestown — and I remember, upon reading, feeling nothing at all.
This month, like an idiot, I decided to revisit both novels.
JURASSIC PARK (1990)
Brutally effective, strangely shaped — the weirdly downbeat ending in the velociraptor nest is infamously structured not around thrills and chases but around Grant’s realization that the dinos are not only breeding but migratory, which feels like a metatextual revelation rather than anything to do with plot. Ultimately Jurassic Park, which was adapted into one of Hollywood’s greatest action/adventure movies, is an anti-scitech polemic in the form of a technothriller: a paranoid, pedantic, mean-spirited rocket ride by an author whose technophilic and technophobic impulses war throughout, with ‘plot’ tending to lose. Not to say it isn’t a great book, in its way — it’s just not great (it turns out) at being the thing it was sold as. Or maybe it is, and I couldn’t tell because my attention was totally focused on its explicit sermonizing.
The true focus of the book turns out to be right there in its ‘documentary’ introduction, a short lecture on the dangers of unregulated genetic research, a greater-than-atomic power in the hands of the worst species on earth; as the book steams toward climax and anticlimax, Crichton devotes many pages to Ian Malcolm’s rants about the dangers of untethered science, forgivably but testingly stopping the action. One of these is actually a wonderful argument: ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ is a form of intellectual inherited wealth, each generation of scientist more cocky and less grounded in where the knowledge actually came from — and everyone knows that being born rich makes you stupid and venal. This is a fine bit of agitprop, actually.
And Malcolm’s deathbed ‘beyond paradise’/’beyond paradigm’ is a good gag.
Well, I enjoyed it — as I did when compulsively rereading my mass-market paperback copy in middle/high school. And now I think I won’t have to read it again.
THE LOST WORLD (1995)
Not only crudely misanthropic and pedantic, not only a pale rewrite of the original, not only — it’s believably rumoured — partly written by a team of uncredited assistants, but a bad book: lazy, repetitive, boring hackwork. A combination lecture/movie treatment masquerading as a novel. This time the intermittent lecture-breaks, in which characters (particularly Ian Malcolm, Crichton’s wearying Marty Stu) deliver preposterous uninterrupted monologues while facing mortal peril, are focused on ‘extinction,’ with which term Crichton figures both species-death and the collapse of modern culture. There’s even a broadside about ‘cyberspace’ destroying human potential by cramming too many cooks into the cultural kitchen. Jurassic Park‘s sledgehammer polemic was palatable because the thriller plot otherwise worked smoothly throughout; The Lost World is too thinly imagined, its story too halfhearted, to bring across its angry-blogpost-level complaints.
I was bored before the end of the first chapter, annoyed before the end of the second, and by the final page I wanted to throw the fucking thing and the corpse of its author into a fire.