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Page turners: Next

Michael Chrichton's latest techno-thriller raises fascinating ethical questions, but bounces around too much to be enjoyable.

After outraging environmentalists with his last novel, "State of Fear," which argued that the threat of global warming is essentially nonexistent, Michael Crichton returns to the realm that cemented his fame: genetic science. Only this time, instead of using DNA to unleash dinosaurs on the modern world, he's looking at real-life cloned sheep and glow-in-the-dark bunnies, and wondering what's "Next."

The answer, at least partly, is Gerard and Dave. The first is a transgenic African grey parrot who helps kids with their math homework. The other is an adorable chimp/human hybrid. Unfortunately for readers, Gerard doesn't show up until page 167; Dave, 183. Before then, Crichton introduces enough genetic scientists to fill MIT, all of them of varying degrees of venality. In one of the most engrossing plotlines, University of California, Los Angeles has been granted "ownership" of a man's cells by the courts. When the man disappears, lawyers send a bounty hunter after his daughter and grandson to take samples by force, arguing "eminent domain."

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During the course of the techno-thriller, Crichton raises plenty of potentially fascinating ethical questions. But he's so busy bouncing from character to character that no individual strand gets wound up in a satisfying way. He seems to hope that if he keeps moving fast enough, readers may not notice that the plot doesn't hang together until after they've put down the book. Grade: B–


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