A Jurassically good feeling…my 4 favorite Crichton reads in honor of Jurassic World

I’m obsessed. Just like my two-year-old, I am giddy for dinosaurs. Specifically? Dinosaurs originating from Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.

It doesn’t hurt that I love dabbling in genetics in my own young adult SciFi work. Last week, when I first saw the new trailer for Jurassic World, I felt that old stab of excitement that would come as a teenager/young adult whenever a new Crichton novel made its way to the big screen. Here’s a rundown of my top five.

big-jurassicparkJurassic Park – I was a nerdy seventh-grader when my family went to see the movie version in London. London, you say? Yes, London. My dad’s job nearly moved our family there, and we were in the UK house hunting (we ended up staying in Atlanta, which is cool, because I started competitive figure skating). While I was petrified during most of the movie (I have never been good with the idea of gore, my empathy for characters sometimes getting the better of me), I LOVED it, and when it came out on video–remember video?–I watched it until it ran scratchy. Oh right…and I read the book, you know, a million times–noting it was even better:)

big-congoCongo – Okay, its not that the lead actor was totally dreamy or Amy the gorilla was astonishing. It was the crazy suspense I discovered in the second Crichton book I read. He had me on the edge of my seat again…and again and again! I realized it wasn’t just the magic of Jurassic Park. This was my first introduction to an author’s style. Crichton combined science and thrilling plots that made me happy in my nerdy ways, and also craving so much more.

big-sphereSphere – The movie version almost ruined this one for me. Also, I had to hide the book so my mom wouldn’t pick it up and realize the “F” word had been used liberally. I felt so dangerous for reading such a novel in a rather conservative home. There’s so much mystery in this novel! Who is talking to them? What is going on? Is anyone at all going to make it out of this underwater tomb? My fear of being trapped under the surface of the water and caustrophia only added to the thrill of this novel. The worn version I inhaled still sits on my shelf (I’ve bought shinier, newer copies of most of the others, because most were from the library).

big-timelineTimeline – Another MC novel where the movie tried to ruin the shockingly good plot and characters Crichton put together . (However, I miss you, Paul Walker – another person leaving us far too early.) Not only did Crichton take on quantum physics (I don’t know if he did it well; I make no claim to understanding physics), but he took on history in the form of time travel. It was like he opened a fan letter from my mind that read, “Dear Michael. You Rock. Science is awesome. But could you dabble in time travel?” With that mix, and hints of Wells’ Time Machine, this novel easily made me remember why Crichton’s work would always be a favorite of mine.

I miss you, MC. You rocked!

Science Fiction – Sensationalism, or social cautioning?

Recently, I reread Russ Hodge’s The Future of Genetics. I used the book to inform my newest contemporary sci-fi trilogy, which deals with the ethics and concerns about genetically engineering the human species to be stronger. Hodge qualifies as an exceptional writer, able to discuss complex science and make it comprehendible to the more artsy-fartsy folks, like myself.

However, I will say I take issue with his slight emphasis on the problems sci-fi writers have caused. He implies that writers sensationalize much too often, stripping scientific researchers of their morals and giving in to hubris to take science beyond acceptable ethical standards. I can see where this would be a problem–always vilifying scientists/researchers and creating fear of scientific discovery.

But I do take issue.

Science fiction serves an important role in our social discourse. Just as a scientist designs an experiment to observe outcomes, a writer models social settings and advancements in science to create ethical dilemmas affecting outcomes for humanity. As writers, we do need to consider whether we are condemning the advancements in science more than celebrating them. This is an important point.

I would argue that books such as Jurassic Park help us think about the outcome of certain variables–in a sense, not learning from history, but from the possible futures we can affect. That is, we should not be afraid of scientific advancement, but realize when the pursuit of knowledge and enhancement will create vast voids between members of our species or negatively affect our fragile eco-system.

Science moves us forward. That is not to be argued against. Strides forward in genetics have led to the treatment of deadly diseases, among other advancements. (However, these treatments are still inequitable – available only to those who have access). But we must weigh the issue carefully. Things like nuclear bombs and biochemical warfare are also products of science. Technology, an amazing piece of our social fabric, comes with its own set of issues (i.e., in the Matched trilogy, people no longer handwrite things, and since computers are monitored, there is no freedom outside the government eyes. In our current society, handwriting is already on the chopping block of school curriculum!).

Science fiction and the dystopian futures it suggests have social value. Writers create the fantastical, spurring the mind to consider and weigh future decisions we must make about our pursuit of advancements and any ethical concerns that accompany those decisions. Yes, writers have social responsibility to represent science (and scientists) in a truthful light and to create rich stories that don’t draw an arbitrary line between black and white. But novels have the power to evoke great emotion, which is why they have the power to make us think and reach beyond the normal everyday.

And that human capacity, I believe, is the reason we pursue science in the first place.