December 2007
Book Reviews by Meg Wood

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(12/29) Next by Michael Crichton. (don't read me!)

What the heck has happened to Michael Crichton?? The same guy who wrote Jurassic Park, a novel that introduced us to genetic manipulation and put the fear o' T. Rex into us, now, only a decade or so later, writes this giant piece of demagogic crap? I read this entire, massive, discombobulated novel primarily because I was in such a state of shock the whole way through, my brain wasn't functioning well enough to alert me to the fact that no, I didn't actually HAVE to keep going. This book is complete crap from page one until the end, with nary a single redeeming feature in between.

The first problem with it is the fact it features about 86 gazillion separate plotlines, all related in some way to genetic manipulation/research/therapies. There's a subplot about a scientist who injected his own DNA into a monkey and ends up with a monkey-boy named Dave who speaks English, looks sort of human (except for all his body hair), and throws his poo around whenever he gets mad (which is often). There's a subplot about another scientist who did the same thing to a parrot named Gerard, who quotes movies incessantly and does math in his head (and is supposed to serve as a sort of comic relief, I think, but mostly I just kept wishing someone would set him free next to a hungry anaconda).

Then there's a subplot about a scientist who has come up with a gene therapy of some sort that ends up curing his brother of being a drug-using slacker, only to then cure him of being alive altogether (can we give a dose of that to Gerard? Please?). Oh, and let's not forget the one about the man who sold his cells to a university and then died. A bad guy breaks into the lab and destroys the cell line to put an end to the university's proprietorship over the cells, only to have the university send a bounty hunter out to kidnap the man's son -- who, being a blood relative, therefore contains some of the cells the university says they “own.”

I'm sure I'm missing several other storylines here -- I couldn't keep track of them all when I was reading the novel, let alone now, a week later, when I'm still in a state of perplexia about how this lame-o book got published in the first place. But the stupid characters and stupid storylines weren't even the novel's biggest problem. No, the novel's biggest problem was its incredibly stupid author (Hi, Mr. Crichton!). By about page 126, I could tell Crichton wrote had written this book simply because he had a lot of strong opinions about genetic research and figured the only way he could get anybody to listen to him espouse those opinions was if he managed to cram every single one of them into a bestseller. I had heard this was essentially what he did in his novel State of Fear (an anti-global warming diatribe), and thus had managed to completely avoid that one. But alas, nobody warned me he'd just changed topics and kept going with the incoherent ranting. There's a scene in this novel where a judge goes off on the “ownership” of cell lines for three pages, and it was just SO OBVIOUS that that was Crichton talking, not his character. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his points (some I did, some I didn't), that's still crappy writing. In fact, this whole book was crappy -- my embarrassment on Crichton's behalf literally became painful. Dude, you used to be a writer I thoroughly enjoyed -- even when your writing wasn't great, your ideas always intrigued me (I loved Prey, the one you wrote about the nanobots, for example). But it's become clear to me now that you've completely gone off the deep end. [CRAP]

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(12/15) Death in the Grizzly Maze: The Timothy Treadwell Story by Mike Lapinski. (read me!)

Werner Herzog's documentary film about Timothy Treadwell, Grizzly Man, was one of my favorite films from 2006. I recently watched it again, after catching an old Treadwell special on the Animal Planet channel (Grizzly Diaries), and this time decided I wanted to learn more about Timothy. When I looked him up in Wikipedia, I discovered information about this biography of him, written shortly after his death in 2003. So, I decided to give it a read.

Though it's not terribly well-written (and it gets very bogged down in the middle with too many stories of OTHER death-by-grizzly tales), it did contain a lot more information about Timothy's life, including some things that were omitted from the movie (understandably so -- there's only so much you can put in a two hour film, after all). Though Lapinski is even more biased against Timothy than Herzog was (he clearly believed that Timothy was not only nuts, but was actually HARMING the grizzlies by getting so close to them -- incidentally, I agree with both these things), he does a fairly good job of interviewing people on both sides of the fence, as well as close family members, colleagues, and friends. He also dedicates an entire chapter to Amie Huguenard, Timothy's girlfriend, who was killed in the grizzly attack along with him in Katmai National Park in October 2003.

All in all, this was an interesting book with enough supplementary material about Timothy to make it well worth reading for all fans of the documentary.
[NON-FICTION]

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(12/7) Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer. (read me!)

After recently rereading Krakauer's book Into the Wild, AND because I've been watching the second season of Everest: Beyond the Limits on Discovery Channel over the last few weeks as well, I was recently overwhelmed by the urge to reread Into Thin Air, Krakauer's first-hand story of the deadly Everest disaster of 1996. This is the book that first made me a fan of stories about mountain climbing -- until I read it, I really had no interest in that sport whatsoever. I still would never consider being a climber myself -- I think all you people who scale mountains, especially ones as dangerous as Everest, are completely and utterly insane. But I'm fascinated by the psychology that leads humans to those sorts of quests, and that's why once I picked up this book, I couldn't put it down.

Rereading it this time, after having seen so much footage of actual climbers struggling to summit Everest on the Discovery Channel series, I found it even more fascinating than before because I could better picture exactly what kinds of settings and conditions were being described. This is a well-written, riveting tale of stupidity, arrogance, and heroism the likes of which we sea-level-lubbers will probably never experience ourselves. Definitely a book not to be missed! Incidentally, I'm planning on rereading Krakauer's latest book, the one about Mormons, in the next month or two as well, so watch for an updated review of that one coming soon (it seems especially timely now that we've got Mitt Romney to contend with in the Presidential race).
[NON-FICTION]

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All web content written by Meg Wood, sooooper genius.
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