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Bestseller Crichton (Jurassic Park) once again focuses on genetic engineering in his cerebral new thriller, though the science involved is a lot less far-fetched than creating dinosaurs from DNA. In an ambitious effort to show what's wrong with the U.S.'s current handling of gene patents and with the laws governing human tissues, the author interweaves many plot strands, one involving a California researcher, Henry Kendall, who has mixed human and chimp DNA while working at NIH. Kendall produces an intelligent hybrid whom he rescues from the government and tries to pass off as a fully human child. Some readers may be disappointed by the relative lack of action, the lame attempts to lighten the mood with humor (especially centering on an unusually bright parrot named Gerard), and the contrived convergence of the main characters toward the end. Still, few can match Crichton in crafting page-turners with intellectual substance, and his opinions this time are less likely to create a firestorm than his controversial take on global warming in 2004's State of Fear. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Crichton's books dazzle listeners with technical jargon that sends them fleeing to an encyclopedia to find answers and actual characters who rub elbows with their fictitious counterparts. The subjects here are genetic engineering, genetic tampering, cross-cultural gene experiments, and stem cell research. Crichton screeches down the genetic highway at breakneck speed, tossing out truth and fiction in equal amounts. Can an African Grey parrot be able to carry on conversations with its owners? What about experiments to place commercial advertising on animals and fish? Throughout these flights of fancy are several story lines that bring the gene question down to a human level, pitting firm believers against equally firm opponents. Lawsuits that touch on the furthest reaches of genetic research confuse the jury and irritate the judges. Actor Dylan Baker has a multitude of voices to contend with as well as some tongue-twisting medical terms, and he handles the job very well. Some of his characters whine too much or speak sarcastically when the situation doesn't really call for it, and one has to wonder why journal headlines are read in a plummy British accent. Still, don't be diverted from diving head first into one of the most important fiction books of modern time. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Joseph L. Carlson, Allan Hancock Coll., Lompoc, CA Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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