Sunday, May 8, 2016

Jurassic Park (audiobook) by Michael Crichton, narrated by Scott Brick

Jurassic Park is a science fiction thriller.


My first exposure to Jurassic Park was the first movie. After seeing that a bunch of times, I read the book. I remember liking both the movie and the book about the same, but for different reasons – the movie had great action scenes and amazing on-screen dinos (the part of me that wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up was thrilled), while the book had a lot more science-y details and a greater variety of dinos.

I spotted this during an Audible sale. I loved Scott Brick's narration in the excerpt, so I decided to take a trip down memory lane and find out how well the book held up. The answer is...not so well.

Although I remembered the book and the movie being very different, the first half of the book was a lot like the movie (which I re-watched right after listening to this audiobook). There were a few differences here and there, but the bones of the story were basically the same, up to a certain point. Hammond invited a bunch of people to his not-yet-open-to-the-public park, hoping to convince everyone that it was great, the real deal, and worth all the money that had been sunk into it. Hammond was less a kindly grandfather and more a slick salesman (with a side of Martin Shkreli), Grant and Ellie weren't a couple but rather professor and grad student (and she supposedly had a fiance somewhere, not that she ever thought about him), and Tim and Lex were older brother and younger sister rather than the other way around. Initially, the biggest difference between the book and the movie was that Book Jurassic Park was doomed right from the start, whereas movie Jurassic Park didn't seem to be doing too badly until Nedry messed everything up.

Book Jurassic Park was an absolute mess. Even before anyone visited Hammond's island, there were dinosaur sightings and attacks in nearby towns and villages. The park's computer system had horrific flaws, more than just the backdoor Nedry left himself. Dr. Wu, the scientist who was primarily responsible for filling in the blanks in the dinosaur DNA so that functional animals could be created, rarely seemed to put much thought into his work. I'm still not sure why he inserted amphibian DNA into some of the dinosaurs' DNA when it was repeatedly stated that dinosaurs were like both birds and reptiles - why not stick to just reptile and bird DNA? Also, his supposed safeguards against the dinosaurs escaping and breeding had enormous holes. Even if you took out the “breeding” part (which I thought was a pretty big stretch on Crichton's part, anyway), the lysine contingency Dr. Wu kept bringing up was dumb. The dinosaurs were designed so that they couldn't produce the amino acid lysine and would go into a coma if they weren't given lysine supplements by the park staff. Except a couple seconds worth of googling gave me a large list of lysine-rich foods that the dinosaurs could have found and eaten, making the lysine contingency useless.

Although Scott Brick's narration was excellent, I'd probably have been better off reading my paper copy, because the first half was so. Incredibly. Boring. All that science-y stuff that fascinated me back when I first read the book 15 or so years ago was a dated slog this time around, and I'd loved to have skimmed most of it. I'd find myself wondering why Crichton hadn't mentioned Dolly the sheep, only to realize that Dolly wasn't cloned until 6 years after this book came out. Then there was the Human Genome Project, which Crichton mentioned as a thing that scientists were still just talking about doing.

I got the impression that Crichton didn't have a whole lot of respect for science or scientists. Malcolm, a mathematician and one of Hammond's biggest detractors, seemed to be acting as Crichton's author surrogate whenever he launched into one of his lectures on the dangers of genetic engineering or pretty much any scientific advancement. I was a little confused about some of his arguments, but he seemed to believe humanity was better off back in the Stone Age, when humans (according to him) only spent 20 hours a week working to feed themselves and had the rest of their time free to do as their pleased. Never mind high infant mortality rates, predators, disease, and more. I wish Malcolm's injury had had the power to shut him up, because he was often insufferable.

Which brings me to Lex, the other character I could barely stand. The only thing she had going for her was that she was a kid, which isn't saying much. I probably wouldn't have minded if Crichton had broken the “don't kill the kids” rule and had her get eaten, except then I'd have had to deal with other characters moping about her death. Lex literally did nothing except make certain parts of the story more difficult than they needed to be. I didn't like Tim much more than I liked her, but at least Tim had useful knowledge and skills.

All in all, this wasn't as good as I remembered it being – the movie held up much better. The first half of the book was ridiculously boring. The second half had more action and dinosaurs but everything still occasionally stopped for one of Crichton's infodumps, like the lengthy explanation of “paradigm shift” near the end. I enjoyed getting to note the differences between the book and the movie, but the book had too many problems for me to truly enjoy it. The park was a mess held together by duct tape and marketing, the ending was kind of ridiculous, and I'm still upset that Crichton had the Velociraptors messily kill a baby Velociraptor on-page (Crichton was so close to getting through the whole book without killing a baby dino on-page, so close!).

I'm tempted to keep my paper copy of this book for a future re-read, just to see if it works better when I'm able to skim the slow bits and can see all of Crichton's various charts, graphs, and computer screen info, but I need the shelf space and I doubt it'd work that much better in paper form than it did in audio.

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