The Lost World by Michael Crichton (1995)

JurassicPark002Cover blurb

It is now six years since the secret disaster at Jurassic Park, six years since that extraordinary dream of science and imagination came to a crashing end – the dinosaurs destroyed, the park dismantled, the island indefinitely closed to the public.

There are rumors that something has survived.

My thoughts

Michael Crichton faced two problems in writing his sequel to Jurassic Park: 1) he had killed off mathematician Ian Malcolm in the first novel, and 2) he also had killed off all the dinosaurs, the Costa Rican army having bombed the park. Bringing back Malcolm turned out to be rather easy. The character had died “off-camera” in Jurassic Park, so Crichton simply attributed his death to bad information received by the other characters. Bringing back the dinosaurs was more problematic, and Crichton achieved it rather clumsily.

The Lost World is set several years after Jurassic Park. Malcolm and the other survivors have been sworn to secrecy about what really happened, but it’s hard to keep any story as big as living dinosaurs under wraps. Jurassic Park is an urban legend, one that a rich, young paleontologist named Richard Levine is very interested in. He harasses Malcolm about his previous experiences, gets no where, and eventually charters a boat to an island he suspects is a “lost world” of dinosaurs. Malcolm and a few other characters soon mount a rescue mission to this lost world, which turns out to be the island where the creators of Jurassic Park did the real grunt work of breeding and raising dinosaurs.

Much of what made Jurassic Park a great read is lost in its sequel. Plot holes are numerous and the science stands on shaky legs. The lost world of the novel is implausible – the dinosaurs would’ve eaten themselves out of house and home long before Malcolm ever showed up. Crichton knows this and constructs a none-too-convincing explanation involving mad cow disease. All of this would have been forgivable had there been a compelling story, but instead Crichton settles for what is essentially a rewrite of Jurassic Park: there were children in the first novel, so there are kids in this novel; there was a T. rex attack on a vehicle in the first novel, so there is a T. rex attack in this novel; the list goes on.

Crichton obviously had a movie in mind when writing The Lost World; his T. rex, for example, causes minor quakes when it walks, a concept from Jurassic Park the movie, not the book. It’s ironic then that Spielberg threw out the entire plot of the novel when turning it into a film. There are no teams of hunters here, no members of Earth First!, and no dinosaurs rampaging through San Diego. But the book, for all its flaws, is still better than the movie and worth your time if you’re a fan of the original novel.

Trivia

The title was taken from the novel of the same name by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It wasn’t a homage. As Cory Gross reports, Crichton said the original novel “(was) one of (Doyle’s) more pulpy stories. It’s a Professor Challenger story, and it’s actually not a very good book, but it’s a wonderful title.” The truth is Doyle’s novel is regarded as a classic and is still in publication 90 years after it came out. Crichton’s The Lost World was largely forgotten after the release of the movie. Still, it should be pointed out that Crichton has since changed his tone, and in 2003 wrote an introduction to a new edition of Doyle’s work.

There is a secret message in The Lost World, the result of a trick played on Crichton by a scientist he asked to provide him DNA code for the novel. Part of the code, when translated, spells out “MARK WAS HERE NIH.” The last part is short for “National Institutes of Health.”(Source: The Science of Jurassic Park and The Lost World.)

The author’s web site is at http://www.michaelcrichton.com.

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