by Michael Crichton
(extraordinary; top 10% of SciThri)
Year published: 1990
Category: science thriller; classic thriller
Tech rating (out of 5):
Two paleontologists and a mathematician are summoned by their wealthy patron to evaluate a soon-to-be-opened theme park featuring real live cloned dinosaurs. Mayhem ensues.
Unless you weren’t alive in 1990, you’ve probably heard of Jurassic Park, Crichton’s masterwork that spawned one of the most popular movies of all time and a minor series franchise (of notably lower quality than the original book). If you haven’t read the book since 1990, you ought to pick it up again.
Jurassic Park opens with an ominous series of scenes that set the tone of dread and danger and raise questions about what’s going on in Costa Rica. Pacing throughout the novel is masterful. Once the reader is sucked in by the opening, Crichton takes the tension down a notch and introduces us to the main characters, Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler, paleontologists working on a dig in remote, dusty Montana. In exchange for desperately-needed research funding, Grant has provided consulting services to the eccentric billionaire John Hammond on a vaguely-defined dinosaur project.
Hammond convinces Grant and Sattler to accompany him to an island off the coast of Costa Rica to give their approval to his project. They are joined by two other wonderful characters, the lawyer Gennaro and the mathematician Ian Malcolm. The magnificence of Hammond’s project, Jurassic Park, is gradually revealed first through the science and then through the experience of a tour through the park. Crichton does an excellent job of keeping the science close to reality; I’ve actually given my university biology students an assignment to evaluate whether cloning dinosaurs from DNA recovered from the guts of blood-sucking insects preserved in amber is possible.
Meanwhile, industrial espionage is at work and one of Hammond’s employees has been bribed to steal dinosaur embryos for a competitor. The reader senses that something is about to go horribly wrong. And of course, it does. Ultimately, Jurassic Park turns into a spectacular “hunt” thriller between the humans and the dinosaurs, who steal the show. In a novel that lacks a black-hearted villain (Hammond is foolish and greedy but not evil), the velociraptors nicely fill the antagonist role.
A few excellent scientific monologues on evolutionary theory, chaos, scientific hubris and greed give this thriller unusual intellectual heft. And the kids (Hammond’s grandchildren, playing T-rex tag with Dr. Grant) turn out not to be too annoying.
If you like this book you should enjoy: Michael Crichton’s Prey
Michael Crichton’s dinosaur series:
Jurassic Park (1990); The Lost World (1995)