Review: Jurassic Park, by Michael Crichton

18112981[1]I read this years ago and loved it.  Helluva page turner.  So when my client told me to pick a popular writer of thriller-type novels, and study one of them to get the tone he wants for his novel, I chose JP because I was familiar with it, not just from having read it but from multiple viewings of the film which I love.  A familiar work would allow me to study the structure without losing myself in the story.  I thought.  Turns out I was dead wrong about that.  I got caught up immediately.

Because I was interested in how it worked as narrated as well as how it read, I purchased the Audible version of it at a discount, and moved back and forth between it and the ebook.  (By the way, it’s nice that at least some Kindles will play the audio right along with the ebook.  Audio broadens my understanding of a work, and listening while reading, though it slows down the latter dramatically, even though I normally listen at 1.5x the normal speed, is a highly immersive way of approaching the text.

But what about the book???  Yes, okay I’m getting to that.  The book.  Well… It still counts as a page-turner, no question.  I got caught up in the narrative so often that I found I had to consciously slow down and look for the things I wanted to study.  Crichton could tell a story!  And in that respect, he’s like Tolkien, a damn fine storyteller, but kind of a crap writer.

Yeah, I’m sorry if there are Crichton fans out there foaming at the mouth, but the drawbacks of his writing are so clear, and in some cases so dire, that I couldn’t  overlook them.  The most egregious problems are his characters.  None of them have real internal lives.  Crichton gives lip service to family, exes, jobs and the like, but they’re not terribly developed.  But this is a thriller, you say, they don’t have to be.  And I would agree up to a point.  But consider:

  • John Hammond is a joke.  He’s an uber rich guy who exists for two reasons: First to pay for and supervise the development of the park, and second, to be annoyed when people tell him the park isn’t going to work.  He’s so obtuse that when Ian Malcolm explains things to him, his consistent response is to ask the rest of the people in the room what Malcolm is talking about.  There’s nothing about him that isn’t cardboard, and even the cardboard doesn’t ring true.
  • Ian Malcolm, or as I like to call him Information Dump Malcolm, exists to explain things.  From the get go, all he ever does is lecture.  He doesn’t have conversations, he doesn’t connect with anyone.  He’s like an AI.  Say: “Chaos Theory,” and off he goes, explaining it.  Say: “Look, real dinosaurs,” and you get pages of explanation about what’s wrong with science today. After a while I just skimmed over his dialogue.
  • The kids:  Two of the most utterly pointless, useless characters ever penned.  Lex is so annoying that I kept hoping the T-Rex would gobble her up like an hors d’oeuvre.  She never shuts up, never does what she’s told, screams, whines, and makes endless noise when everyone is telling her to be quiet or the dinosaurs will eat them.  She’s an insufferable know-it-all, who knows virtually nothing about anything, and doesn’t really want to know anything.  All she wants to do is play “pickle” and whine about how none of this is fun and she’s hungry.  The only time she’s bearable is when she’s unconscious.  Tim is a virtual non-entity, but at least he’s an improvement over his sister.
  • Everybody else: Almost totally interchangeable except for their area of expertise.

I don’t really feel like I’m being harsh here either.  I’m willing to give props for a compelling story told in such a break-neck fashion that had I not been paying close attention to the text, I might never have caught these problems. Or at least they might not have gotten up my nose so completely.  What you have is a decent thriller with a great plot and a damn good hook: cloning dinosaurs.  It was timely then and it still is, it plays to our fears and our desires, and Crichton knows how to manipulate both.

I think I’m pretty much finished with this book now, I doubt I’ll ever need to read it again unless I want to remind myself of the spare, efficient style of it.  Crichton proved to me that the advice about dialogue — use “said;” the eye skips right over it — is completely true.  His work is an education for any writer, but particularly those who are going to write fast-paced stories.

He tells a great story, and that’s really the bottom line.

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