|3.5 stars out of 5|
In many ways, this novel, which started the whole franchise, is better than the corresponding Jurassic Park movie—the science is more obvious and better and the plot is a bit more complex. However, for characterization, the movie probably gives the viewer more sympathy for those doing the running & screaming. The novel does include an awful lot of computer programming diagrams & jargon—probably trendy at the time of its publication, but a bit dated now.
Crichton seems to have much the same message in mind as Mary Shelley did when she wrote Frankenstein—science often seems to out-strip humanity’s moral development and just because we are able to do something doesn’t mean we should do it. Where Shelley left it for the reader to develop this thesis on their own, Crichton gets down right preachy, hitting the reader over the head with this message repeatedly (as articulated by the mathematician). And this whole idea that nature can’t be contained and that it’s hubristic of people to try—this seems to me to be a very “city folk” way of looking at the world. Ask anyone who grew up on a farm, complete with livestock, and we will tell you that there is no such thing as a fool-proof fence! Try to out-smart a pig—it’s not as easy a task as you might think. I’ve ended up using reverse psychology (open two gates, chase them towards the gate you don’t want the pigs to go out). Ever try getting a large beast like a cow or a horse to do something they don’t want to do? Good luck! You will need many people in order to accomplish the task. The horse may do what you want if you have a very good working relationship with it (I think about each year here in Calgary at Stampede time when some brave soul takes a horse up the Calgary Tower and attempts to get it to stand on the glass floored part of the observation deck—I wouldn’t do it and neither will any sensible horse!) Farmers and ranchers know their limits—they have no illusions of control when it comes to animals. I also know a substantial number of zoo keepers and they have a keen respect for their charges and know that zoo animals have plenty of time to contemplate the weak spots in their enclosures and that they are willing to test those weak spots when all the zoo staff have gone home for the evening. If it’s hard to convince a cow to do something, it can be downright dangerous to ask an elephant to do something it has an aversion to. While zoo keepers know these things, it often seems that zoo administration is clueless about animal behaviour & intelligence. When things go wrong (e.g. when an animal escapes), it is often because administration and/or architects discount the warnings of animal care staff. When Calgary Zoo opened a new building, the Colobus monkeys climbed right out of their supposedly-secure new enclosure and were found in the rafters the next morning. Modifications, previously suggested by zoo keepers and disregarded, were put into place.
And seriously, how many city folk can’t even get their dogs to be obedient?
So, a very good novel with good suspense and a fun premise (who wouldn’t want to go to a safe version of Jurassic Park?), but I am knocking off a star because I was smart enough to see the message without being beaten about the head & ears with it!