After reading other books along the lines of the “animals running amok”, namely The Great Zoo of China and Zoo (you can reach my respective reviews by the links), I was naturally curious to address the elephant in the room, as it were, and read Jurassic Park, especially since both a good friend of mine highly recommended it and also because, out of the two previous books, The Great Zoo of China was arguably the better one.
I was certainly impressed with Jurassic Park. It’s been ages since I even saw the movie as a child so I was approaching it pretty much fresh, though the comparisons of The Great Zoo of China being “Jurassic Park with dragons” was certainly something I was mindful of. As it was my introduction, too, to Michael Crichton’s work, I was doubly impressed. The writing was precise and technical, but not alienating. Crichton’s prose certainly doesn’t meander, and it certainly reads in a very cinematic way, with each scene feeling like it’s taken from a movie, but richly detailed. The world in which Jurassic Park takes place in – the fictional island of Isla Nublar – is certainly expansive, but the island itself proves an effective means of containing the narrative in a plausible way. A sense of urgency is instilled with the rush of the protagonist, Alan Grant, to both survive the ordeal of the park itself but to prevent the escape of the dinosaurs onto the mainland. It’s certainly thrilling, and it’s effective and tense too. The richly-detailed backstory to how the dinosaurs were created and the elaborate systems of the Park are well thought out, with the latter just oozing with premonition. Just wanting to know quite how these sophisticated systems go awry was plenty to drive me to keep reading.
The technical explanations could’ve been off-putting, but I feel they are framed in a way in which neither alienates the reader nor condescends to them. Clearly a lot of research had been put into Jurassic Park to make the science plausible, and not just sound plausible. And, too, I definitely feel that Jurassic Park is a product very much of its time – I wouldn’t say the book has aged as it’s still very easy to read and certainly a pleasure to, but the setting of the early 1990s – before text messaging, emails, Twitter etc were things that needed explaining away – is ideal for a thriller like Jurassic Park. It adds a certain simplicity that The Great Zoo of China didn’t have from being written in a contemporary 21st century setting, with less aspects of modern life that need to be “explained away” and get in the way of the narrative. No-one needs people running around Jurassic Park after a phone signal or a USB plug, and the lack of these things just keeps the narrative simple. There was also a surprising undercurrent of industrial sabotage – which, again, felt absolutely plausible – that does drive the story; not because I intrinsically liked the manner and means of InGen (the fictional corporation behind the titular park) but seeing them being conspired against was a more moral point, but I suppose this book was taking a sideways glance at the amoral aspects of capitalism.
I felt the characters, too, were well realised. John Hammond, the billionaire owner of the park, has a delightfully two-faced persona; on the outside he’s a salesman; on the inside a ruthless operator. Nedry, too, was a dark horse, and a thoroughly selfish character but his circumstances did endear his cause a lot. The addition of the children – Tim and Lex – too, added a bit of humanity to proceedings but also gave the audience a surrogate place in the story, and gave the other “brainy” characters an outlet for a lot of the exposition. Sure, a lot of the characters are of a scientific background – as you’d come to expect, but characters like Tim and Lex really shone – Tim for his resourcefulness and intuition, even against biases derived from his status as a child and Lex, whose bloody-mindedness and petulance was almost endearing – I found myself, strangely, enjoyably irritated by Lex’s character, which in my view points to excellent characterisation.
Jurassic Park also deals with some interesting themes about the ethical reaches of science – just because it can be done, should it? – and wrapping into the story some otherwise dry abstract about chaos theory. I knew nothing about chaos theory before approaching Jurassic Park but I do feel that the book, as a cautionary tale about the reliance on apparently-simple systems, and the innate unpredictable nature of, well, some of the more elemental aspects of the natural world, did impart some lasting things to reflect upon. The focus of scientific advancement from philanthropic intentions to ones of profiteering. The folly of human reliance on science and hubris that almost harks back to Victorian times, too, is a major theme that I identified. Wrapped up in this fast-moving narrative were, I was surprised, some pretty deep things to think about, and that was a wonderful discovery to make while reading the book.
Overall, though, I was thoroughly impressed with Jurassic Park and I highly enjoyed it, and I’m just a bit gutted I didn’t read it sooner! Michael Crichton is definitely an author whose back catalogue I will happily pillage!
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