Date finished: September 6th 2015
There’s a moment I remember vividly from primary school when I was about six or seven. I was in Mrs Bilonick’s class and we were going through the letters of the alphabet. What follows is an abridged version of what transpired.
“Who can name something beginning with H? … Chris?”
“And who can name something with I? … Chris?”
We kept going through the alphabet and for each letter I would eagerly thrust my hand into the air and every time I was picked on I’d recite the name of a dinosaur. Eventually, Mrs Bilonick grew tired of this:
“Who can name something beginning with M? … Chris, is this another dinosaur?”
“Go on then”
As you can probably tell, I was the kid who loved dinosaurs. I had toy dinosaurs, my grandfather taped Walking with Dinosaurs for me and I watched it all the time, so you can probably guess what my favourite film was.
So it’s something of a travesty that I never actually got round to reading the book of my favourite childhood film until 2015. It was the release of Jurassic World that inspired me to finally pick up the novel that contributed so much to my childhood.
You’re probably familiar with the plot of Jurassic Park: rich businessman brings dinosaurs back to life through advanced genetic technology and builds zoo full of dinosaurs, then things go horribly wrong.
The film follows the novel fairly closely to begin with before diverging in a slightly different direction. There are some key differences between film and novel which we won’t go into here. What matters is that this is the best novel I’ve read all year.
Of course, I’m a little biased because of nostalgia, but I’ve tried to read the books of films I’ve seen before and it’s not gone well. Crichton, however, kept me more gripped than the film ever did. I refuse to believe that Crichton wasn’t a childhood dinosaur nerd like myself. His enthusiasm for the topic jumps from the page and into your veins, and it’s not just for the teeth and the gore, it’s for the science. Crichton, a qualified doctor before he made a living off writing, clearly had a healthy respect for science and he gives a lot of room to its contemplation, be it through Henry Wu’s explanation of the genetic conundrums involved in bringing dinosaurs back to life, Alan Grant’s simultaneous amazement and terror at the creatures he’s devoted his life to studying suddenly existing once more, or, of course, Dr Ian Malcolm’s diatribes on the, er, nature of, ah, chaos theory.
Perhaps one of the most artful and suspenseful scenes in the whole novel doesn’t even involve dinosaurs, it involves statistics. The visitors on the tour find substantial evidence for dinosaur breeding taking place (something that should be impossible as all the specimens are female) and Dr Malcolm, who has already heavily criticised the computer systems monitoring the park asks them to use their system to monitor the number of creatures in the park in a new way. This system worked through a series of sensors detecting individual creatures to ensure none had escape. There are 239 animals on the island and this number has never been lower – nothing could have escaped. Dr Malcolm asks them to make the system find 240 animals. It succeeds in this task. He asks it to find progressively more, and eventually they find that there are 292 creatures on the island. The way Crichton reveals this flaw is just superb and the trepidation in the room is palpable.
I knew the plot already (apart from the slight differences), I knew the characters and I was of course more than familiar with the dinosaurs, but reading Jurassic Park for the first time was like reliving the childlike joy I felt the first time I ever watched the film, breathing new life into an old love.
It’s a substantially satisfying novel through and through. Crichton writes with the effortless flow of an accomplished thriller author, whilst still being able to delve into the thorny ethics and scientific issues surrounding the concept of bringing extinct animals back to life. It remains one of the most powerful treatises on scientific hubris, whilst simultaneously being one of the most gripping white knuckle rides ever written. And did I mention it has dinosaurs?