Review: The Lost World (Paperback)

the_lost_worldA few months ago I read Jurassic Park and I, as I said in my review, thoroughly enjoyed it; thusly, I was quite excited to read the sequel, The Lost World. Fair to say I found the second book just as impressive and enjoyable as its predecessor.

The Lost World has a fair share of similarities and differences from the original Jurassic Park. Sure, there’s the island covered with dinosaurs, and a race to find out what’s going on and then escape. Like Jurassic Park, the characters the book focuses on are largely the same – most strikingly, Richard Levine’s students, Arby and Kelly, surreptitiously finagle their way into the expedition to Isla Sorna; they’re very close approximations to Hammond’s grandchildren Tim and Lex in Jurassic Park. Indeed, Arby is a more intense and introverted character (good with computers too) while Lex seems more superficial, so the comparison to Tim and Lex is palpable. I’m not suggesting this is bad, but it’s noticeable and, if anything, grounds The Lost World with a sense of familiarity. It’s the same to Jurassic Park but also different.

The initial parts of the book concern themselves with establishing the mystery of unknown animals washing up on the coast of Costa Rica, and the gradual revelation that InGen – the corporation from the previous book who genetically-engineered dinosaurs for the titular theme park – had a “Site B” on a neighbouring island. I felt that the Site B description did back up a lot of the first book, where Levine describes the laboratories on Isla Nublar as essentially window-dressing; on consideration, of course Jurassic Park would’ve needed an industrial facility for creating dinosaurs. Of course the technology wouldn’t be flawless.

A major driving factor for The Lost World is curiosity – the character of Levine simply won’t let the idea of a second island go, and this transforms into an urgent quest for rescue and escape from another equally hazardous-to-human-health island. Again, the island is a good, isolated setting that imbues a sense of closeness for the story and also a sense of isolation that makes the narrative of wild dinosaurs plausible. The island is a natural means of isolating the story. What drives the pace of the story is both the urgency of escaping the dinosaurs but also the race to the island before the Costa Rican authorities summarily destroy any trace of InGen’s work.

One thing The Lost World has heaps of is jeopardy, and pacy action scenes. The stakes, like before, seem to get exponentially higher and exciting, but this doesn’t stop the book from ruminating on the societal impact of technology. A major philosophical theme in The Lost World continues from the one in Jurassic Park: just because science can do something doesn’t mean it necessarily should, and there’s also some pretty prescient statement on the effects of technology on how it homogenises society. There’s a continued criticism of how modern science is less a philanthropic quest for knowledge but more an exploitative means of enrichment, and how the value of science has changed. Indeed, the Jurassic Park was created not for the good of humanity – though the ability to clone dinosaurs is indeed noble – but because it can be exploited for profit. There’s a continual sense that The Lost World is another cautionary tale about the author’s perceived “misuse” of scientific method. It’s thought-provoking.

That’s not to say this gets in the way of the action, which is written precisely and is detailed. Again, velociraptors are portrayed as the main antagonists – intelligent beasts that simply don’t give up on the hunt – but there’s also a degree of characterisation to some of the other dinosaurs – the tyrannosaurs, especially, who are put across as menacing and terrifying but they’ve maternal and paternal instincts behind that behaviour.

The Lost World also functions well as a standalone novel; there’s hints to the events of the first book but the plot is not reliant on it. Ian Malcolm – a character who bridges both books – is reticent to discuss his adventure in the first book too much. The Lost World takes place on another island, totally separate to Isla Nublar of the first book and the parts of the plot that allude to the first book – the reason for the InGen facility on Isla Sorna – are explained adequately, but not dwelled on to the point the reader is baffled by continual references.

Too, there is the sense of conspiracy. Why is the Costa Rican government so trigger-happy with any evidence of the cloned dinosaurs? And the subplot of industrial espionage – another indictment on ‘modern’ science and its methods, perhaps? – from Jurassic Park is further explored and brought to a close here.

Overall, though, another cracking read that certainly held my attention with the pace, jeopardy, and action. Crichton’s work here is eminently readable, exciting and gripping and, fair to say, I am very excited to further explore his other work, too!

Buy The Lost World on Amazon UK

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Review: Jurassic Park (Paperback)

Jurassic_ParkAfter 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!

Buy Jurassic Park on Amazon UK