Saturday, November 20, 2010


I miss Michael Crichton.  I miss seeing his newest book come out and wondering what current science topic he was going to tackle.  I miss reading it and being sucked into a world where dinosaurs, aliens or nanomachines exist.  And threaten to take over the world, naturally.  I miss chuckling over the fact that his books were marketed as thrillers when they were really science fiction, which meant that people who scorn sci-fi were inadvertently reading it.  Hee hee.  Any time an author I like stops writing, I feel sorry for myself that I don't get to read anything new by them ever again.  Selfish, I know.

Imagine my delight when a review I read compared Laurence Gonzales to Crichton.  It's an accurate comparison.  Gonzales' book Lucy was really similar to Crichton's book Next, which both have to do with transgenic species.  Next is about two animals with human genes, but Lucy is about a girl who is half human, half bonobo ape.  Bonobos look like chimpanzees and are endangered animals found only in the Congo.  Lucy's father is a scientist who lived in the Congo for years and decided it was his mission to bring the human race to its next level of evolution.  In other words, he was kinda crazy.  Lucy is found after another scientist, Jenny Lowe, comes to rescue Lucy's father when violence breaks out in the jungle.  Her father was killed, unfortunately, but Jenny takes Lucy back to England with her to find Lucy's remaining family.  Guess what?  None are found.  You know, 'cause Lucy's mom is an ape.  Nobody knows that, other than Lucy, until Jenny reads the journals that Lucy's dad meticulously kept over the years.

Lucy is an articulate, intelligent and well-educated young woman.  Her father spent her childhood filling her brain with more education than most of us get in a lifetime.  When Lucy and Jenny end up back in the U.S., where Jenny is from, Lucy tests out of all her high school classes, but Jenny decides to stick her in for a senior year anyway.  Now that Jenny is in on the secret, they are very intent on keeping Lucy out of the public eye and getting her adjusted to the real world.  This is hard to do, what with Lucy's social awkwardness, sensitivity to sound, super high intelligence and inhuman strength.  How do you keep those kinds of characteristics out of spotlight?

You know it's going to all fall apart and Lucy will be exposed for what she is, and sure enough, it happens.   But when it does, it's interesting how Lucy and her best friend, Amanda, spin it their own way.  They make a video on YouTube, create a MySpace page, blog incessantly about it and basically protect Lucy through public exposure.  She becomes a celebrity and by it, the government doesn't easily nap her for the proverbial tests in a laboratory.  You know that's going to happen too, but for a while she is protected by her celebrity.

The creepy parts are when the government decrees that Lucy isn't human, even going as far as to pass a law defining her existence as animal, not human.  Her treatment when she is captured is horrible and upsetting and would be cruel if she was truly just an animal.  Even the letters she gets from fans are creepy.  From marriage proposals to death threats, it was unnerving to read people's reactions.  Yet, Lucy handles it all so well.  So well, in fact, that I started to get a little annoyed that Lucy never gets mad.  She's just a little too perfect.  It's like Gonzales is trying to drive the point home that Lucy is better than the rest of us, that being who she is makes her more human.  But being human means getting mad or frustrated or acting badly sometimes.  And Lucy never does that.

Even though this book is science fiction and therefore filled with improbable situations, I kept wondering what would happen if scientists were able to create transgenic people.  This isn't a new topic.  The Isle of Dr. Moreau is an old book, after all.  And I mentioned Next.  And any book where people hate someone or something that's different.  Oh man, I'm not going to even start on a list of books on that topic.  This isn't a new idea, is what I'm saying, and probably Lucy isn't even the best book on that theme, but I still liked it.  It keep me riveted and by the time I reached the climax of Lucy's escape, I couldn't stop turning pages.  I love Crichton's books, but I never felt compassion for his characters like I did for Lucy.  It's got flaws, but overall, I still liked it.  How human of me.


  1. My main complaint about the 2 books I've read by Crichton is that he stops the story to talk about technology. Is Lucy like that? Or is it like a Clancy novel (another author categorized as "thiller" when he includes more science than most space operas) where the explanation of technology comes as a natural part of the dialogue and moves the story along?

  2. Good question. There is actually very little explanation of science. You get about a page and a half of Jenny reading from Lucy's father's notes and that's about it. It was enough to help you understand how this all came to be, but not enough to stop the story.