February 2016 (2/12)
A Year Of Books by Suyi Davies
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Published by Penguin Random house (Arrow Books), 1991
458 pages, paperback
Welcome people! How goes a great month? Month of love, eh? Well, I’m here to share some belated love, but not in the way you’d expect. In fact, this love I’m sharing comes with a dose of flesh-eating horrors.
*BEWARE! SPOILERS AHEAD!*
Today, I’m taking a look at the early nineties classic, Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton (of blessed memory). I’m pretty sure most have seen the movie from 1993.
On the fictional Isla Nublar near Costa Rica, a billionaire philanthropist and a small team of genetic scientists create a wildlife park of cloned dinosaurs. When an incident results in the death of an employee, Jurassic Park owner John Hammond brings in three specialists to sign off on the park to calm investors. The specialists, paleontologist Alan Grant, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler, and mathematician Ian Malcolm are surprised to see the island park’s main attraction are living, breathing dinosaurs, created with a mixture of fossilized DNA and genetic cross-breeding/cloning. However, when lead programmer Dennis Nedry shuts down the park’s power to sneak out with samples of the dinosaur embryos to sell to a corporate rival, the dinosaurs break free, and the survivors are forced to find a way to turn the power back on and make it out alive.
(Thank you, Wiki 😉 ).
Now, where’s the love you promised? you ask.
Well, read on, then.
CHARACTERS + VOICE
The characters in this book are alright. Even though I remember the dinosaurs more than the people, the characters are different enough to stand away from one another, and their motives and motivations are sound. They’re built just well enough for a reader to empathize with, and they acted believably in the face of disaster. For a thriller, this works just fine.
One thing that pricked me, though, was the underrepresentation of characters of colour. All characters that mattered at all were alluded to be white. Sure, there was the Haitian maid (stereotype), Black safari valets (stereotype), and the one main character of colour, Dr Henry Wu, the Asian whiz recruited directly out of college (stereoooooootype!).
But come on, really? Let’s learn to kick these stereotypes in the nuts and be more diverse, please. Not every time black guy servant; sometimes, black guy tech whiz or billionaire.
The underrepresentation of women in the book put me quite off as well. The main cast featured ONE woman (not counting the little girl, Alex, who was also portrayed as a whiny little brat–not good at all), Ellie Sattler, who in my opinion, seemed like she was thrown in as an afterthought. Though Ellie is an important part of the cast (in her role as a paleobotanist), she was given far less page time than the men. In fact, if she was taken out of the cast, there would be zero changes to the story’s trajectory. That’s bad, bad, bad.
The scientists are called in to look at the park and endorse it for investors. They see live dinosaurs; that’s cool, but it’s dangerous to assume things about animals no one knows enough about. They’d rather the park be shut down. Before any decisions can be made, something goes wrong. Enter disaster, and all goes to shit. They find a way to survive. They find a way to blow the park out of existence.
You’d think this would be a great end to a story, but guess what Crichton does here? He immediately turns it bittersweet. The Government of Costa Rica clamps down on the survivors and keeps them in the country. They’re given the best rooms and best service, but, ehm, they can’t go back to their country. At least, not now. Not in the next few years. Not until the Government is absolutely sure no dinosaur got away and is wreaking havoc somewhere in the middle of town.
I dunno how I felt about that ending. I’m gonna leave it up to you to decide.
I liked the narrative’s delivery structure though. It wasn’t written in traditional chapter style. Everything is split into chunks of titled sequences, most shorter than usual chapter length, but still containing one to three scenes within. Further down the book, the scenes get shorter, making it a quick and pacy read. It sort of freshened the reading experience for me, breaking away from the more rigid chapter system. Different. I like different.
First thing most people think upon hearing Jurassic Park is flesh-eating dinosaurs, horror and gore. Reading the book, though, I see that Jurassic Park is about much more. Under all that fun of running around with dinosaurs, there are stern critiques of science. Of the commercialization of scientific advances and the ungodly mix of scientific advancements and capitalist consumerism. Science for money.
The mathematician, Ian Malcolm, was cast in his role almost primarily as the “voice of the author” in critiquing everything Jurassic Park stood for. He constantly hammered the benefactor, John Hammond–using complex fractals and chaos theory–with reasons why he didn’t expect the park to work. That nature wasn’t meant to be tampered with or brought under control. That part of nature’s balance was its freedom, its chaos. That keeping such nature controlled was in its own way, an imbalance.
Equilibrium from chaos. I loved that.
There’s this thing Crichton did where he plugged in charts, tables and computer data into the novel, changing the face of fiction as we know it. Of course this data was relevant to the story, and of course he could’ve simply described it instead, but he did it anyway. And because this is odd in fiction, it threw me off at first, then just as quickly, drew me again. I think it goes to teach a key point here: there are no rules. In writing, one has to just do what works, what lends itself to whatever one’s writing. Forget about how Achebe did it, forget about how Stephen King did it; if it works, do it!
I’d say I like Jurassic Park as a book. The story is strong and the premise is fresh. The research is also rock solid; this guy knows what the hell he’s talking about. So, is it a great book? Maybe. Will I recommend it to you? Yes, if you wanna take a break from slow, boggy literature and hit a drag of something fast, pacy. If you’re also on the “Humanity Over Science” bandwagon, aha, there you go.
WHERE YOU CAN GET IT
As my gift for the month (Valentine did not pass you by after all, ehn?), I’m gonna give you a couple of places where you stand a good chance of getting this book (in Nigeria, of course). Emphasis on could. Before you go there and say, “Suyi said you people have it.” Mba.
Also, I’m going to be doing this every month onwards. Don’t you just love me? 🙂
- Amazon (paperback and kindle): For you people that the exchange rate isn’t biting.
- Ake Festival Bookshop, Abeokuta, Ogun State: This is where I got mine. The next festival is in November 2016. If your name is Patience, this one’s for you.
- Patabah Bookshop, Adeniran Ogunsanya Shopping Mall, Surulere: I saw it here once, during a visit.
- The Hub, The Palms, Lekki: Their books usually come in seasons. If they don’t have it now, they usually won’t for a long time coming.
- Amab Books, Minna, Niger State (@amabbooks): These guys deliver book orders to your doorstep, wherever you are in Nigeria. This would work best for those not in Lagos.
These are the avenues I know for now. If you’ve got any more, kindly drop ‘em in the comments.
In March, we take a trip back to Nigeria. THE BOOK OF PHOENIX by Nnedi Okorafor is next on A Year of Books.
See yer then!
Suyi Davies Okungbowa
Words Are Work … and fun too!