The dinosaur is back on earth – alive, now, in Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
The story, told with an almost documentary verisimilitude, is an account through an attempt, through a hair-raising twenty-four hours on a remote jungle island, to avert a global emergency – a crisis triggered by today’s headlong rush (virtually unchecked by any government or scientific watchdogs) to commercialize genetic engineering.
In Jurassic Park, Crichton makes brilliant and mesmerizing use of the unique amalgam of suspense and informed science (this time paleontology, biotechnology and chaos theory) that he originated in The Andromeda Strain. Of all his superb scientific thrillers – all of them best-sellers – Jurassic Park is in every way the strongest. It is certain to be his most widely read, talked about, and unreservedly enjoyed novel to date.
Forget the movie. Nearly everything that is clever and unique about the novel was lost in its translation to the big screen. I read this book long before Spielberg’s half-hearted adaptation hit theaters, and I’m glad my fond memories of it weren’t tainted by the film.
Strange things are going down in Costa Rica. A doctor treats a dying man who has been ripped open by a large animal; a little girl is attacked by a strange lizard; babies are being killed in their cribs. All this eventually connects back to Alan Grant, a paleontologist digging up dinosaur fossils in Montana. Before he gets to investigate further, he is whisked away by billionaire John Hammond to inspect a nature preserve on a tropical island. When he arrives, he finds the island populated by genetically engineered dinosaurs!
Make no mistake, Jurassic Park is the reason this site exists. It got me hooked on paleontology and on science in general. What Crichton does so well is paint dinosaurs as real animals rather movie monsters, although, yes, they do chase and eat people. He takes full advantage of the zoo setting to speculate on their behavior and their biology, and isn’t afraid to let his imagination soar in either regard, such as in the case of the spitting dilophosaurs. He also makes a convincing case for accepting the book’s far-fetched plot: The science sounds plausible, and the mistakes made by the people running Jurassic Park are truly head-smacking (in the movie, all it takes is one disgruntled fat guy for things to go wrong).
I first read Jurassic Park at a more innocent time, but now, being slightly more mature, I can see my childhood favorite has flaws. It often reads like a movie novelization with short chapters and sparse descriptions. The characterization is thin and stereotypical, especially in the case of Hammond, a businessman so greedy he doesn’t even care if his grandchildren get eaten by dinosaurs, just as long as the park opens on time. Still, it’s a damn fun read. Jurassic Park is a book where the entertainment value overshadows its negatives, probably as pure a “summer read” as you’ll ever find.
- The seed for Jurassic Park was planted in Crichton’s mind for many years before it had the chance to bloom. The author said he wrote a screenplay about a genetically engineered dinosaur in 1981 but discarded it because he wasn’t happy with the script. (Source: The Making of Jurassic Park)
- The author’s web site is at http://www.michaelcrichton.com.
- Anyone interested about the science behind the novel should check out The Science of Jurassic Park and The Lost World, or How to Build a Dinosaur by Rob DeSalle and David Lindley. Most of the book is about biotechnology, but the final chapters explore the practical implications of keeping dinosaurs in the modern world.
- The PBS documentary series NOVA also explored the science behind the book and movie in The Real Jurassic Park. The bad news: It is pretty much impossible to bring back dinosaurs through cloning. Well, maybe it’s not so bad if you are a goat…
- Steven Jay Gould (comparing the movie to the book)