An interview with
novelist and filmmaker
NEXT big thing
By Will Fifield
WHAT IF YOU FOUND out that, while you were
being treated for cancer, your doctor took some
of your cells under false pretenses and sold them
for $3 billion to a research-and-development firm?
According to novelist Michael Crichton, things like
this are going on today. That’s why he wrote about
the field of genetic research in his new novel, Next.
Like many of Crichton’s novels, Next centers
on alarming developments in the medical and scientific arenas. It examines the frightening implications of genetic research, from deep in the jungles of
Sumatra, where an orangutan begins speaking, to
Los Angeles, where a former leukemia patient battles in court because some of his cells were stolen
and sold. Meanwhile, in a lab in San Diego, a scientific researcher is fascinated by the news reports of
the talking ape in Indonesia. Could it be true?
Crichton’s proclivity toward such stories comes
naturally—he developed his skill as a writer, penning novels such as The Andromeda Strain and A
Case of Need (often under the pseudonyms John
Lange or Jeffrey Hudson), while a medical student.
After graduating from Harvard Medical School, he
pursued a career as a novelist and filmmaker.
To date, Crichton, 64, has sold more than 150 million books and has produced and
directed movies and television
shows. He is creator and producer
of the TV series ER, and 13 of his
bestselling novels have been made
into films, including Jurassic Park,
Rising Sun, Timeline and The
Great Train Robbery.
The Connection recently caught
up with Crichton to discuss his new novel.
The Costco Connection: In your novel Next,
how much of the plot is cold, hard research and how
much is fiction?
Michael Crichton: Of course fiction and fact
are intermixed, but I’d say that about 70 percent of
the things in the book have already happened and
are true. If people think you can put human genes
in a parrot, that’s a mistake. You can’t. But they are
certainly making transgenic [containing genes from
another species] animals that have human genes.
They’ve been doing that for 20 years. And gene
patenting is ridiculous. The notion that somebody
can now say, “Oh, I own hepatitis C”—and someone
does—that’s crazy. It’s dangerous. It presents us with an increased risk of global pandemics,
because everyone is madly patenting these things. Michael Crichton
CC: How is it that so many
people don’t seem to know about
JONATHAN EXB Y
what is taking place in the field of genetics?
MC: These must be the kinds of stories people
skip when they read newspapers. The idea that, if
you have an organ removed during surgery at a hos- Signed book
pital, the hospital now owns it and they can do what give-away
they want with it, including sell it for profit—and
you have nothing to say about it—these are the COSTCO HAS
kinds of things that people care about.
But for some reason these matters copies of Michael
haven’t really come to people’s atten- Crichton’s Next
tion. They really didn’t come to mine to give away in
either, and I think that I pay attention to a drawing. To
developments in science. enter, print your
CC: Many of your novels are caution- name, member-
ary tales. How should people go about pro- ship number,
tecting themselves against bad practices in address and
science and medicine? daytime phone
MC: We shouldn’t be banning research, number on a
but we should absolutely postcard or letter
be making people aware and send it to: Next, The
of what’s being done. One of the Costco Connection, P.O.
problems now is that there are Box 34088, Seattle, WA
various groups in the country that 98124-1088; or fax it to
want to ban one thing or another, (425) 313-6718.
but there doesn’t seem to be a No purchase is neces-
group that’s really saying, “Inform sary. Only current Costco
the public.” members are eligible to
CC: Do you think people take scientific research win. One entry per house-
hold. Entries must be
too seriously or not seriously enough? received or postmarked by
MC: I think they put far too much credence in February 1, 2007. Winners
it, in the sense that they misunderstand how much will be randomly selected
research that’s reported is likely to be proven untrue. and notified by mail on or
before March 1, 2007. The
Science is a self-correcting discipline. value of the prize is $27.95.
CC: How much time do you spend researching Void where prohibited.
a novel? Winners are responsible
MC: It really depends. Probably, on average, it for all applicable federal,
state and local taxes. The
takes about two years. But State of Fear [Crichton’s decision of the judges is
most recent novel] took more than three years. And final. Employees of Costco,
this one [Next], because it has a relatively confined HarperCollins and their
subject matter, took about one year. Research is fun families are not eligible.
Winners will be notified
for me. It’s probably what interests me most about by mail.
my job. C
is continued in the Online
Edition, along with a full chapter excerpt from Next. Go to
costco.com and choose “Costco