Novel * Michael Crichton * Dinos Gonna Getcha * 1990
I suspect that Jurassic Park marks the first time I got to be an obnoxious book snob when it comes to pop culture, because I loved this book when I was thirteen. Of course I did. Pretty much all kids like dinosaurs. And while thirteen was definitely past my dino-loving prime of being eight or nine and obsessed, this was a grown up book and I was an edgy teen, so obviously I wasn’t just there for the dinos. I was also there for the gory dino maulings and I was not disappointed. Yet because I wore this book out before the movie was released, I also got to be insufferable for (probably not) the first time. “Yeah, the movie was pretty cool, but the book is so much better you don’t even know.” Sure, Jeff Goldblum is a fuckin’ sex machine and the Ian Malcom in the book is kind of an exposition machine, but whatever! There’s like, way more disemboweling in the novel. Therefore, much better.
I’m not thirteen any more. Jurassic Park remains one of those pop culture touchstones that will forever resonate with audiences because the movie’s vision was so well realized. As for the book, which I just reread for the first time in maybe twenty years, well, it’s fine. Jurassic Park is a science-forward action story whose characters are thin and obvious. Thankfully, it’s fast-paced and fun – I read it in an afternoon. Those dinos are gonna getcha! It’s a story where the bad guys get ate and the good guys don’t and best science-knower is the most noble. Unfortunately, it’s also a boy story for boys. There is one woman and one girl in this book, and while it seems like Crichton probably thinks he’s doing a good job with them, he totally isn’t. Ellie is a whipsmart woman of science, but she really has very little to do other than be a nurse and look hot in shorts. Lex, the girl, is there to be fucking obnoxious the entire time and just gets in the way of her wiser and more talented brother. But she likes sports, though, so it’s not a stereotype!
Still, the actual execution of the story in Jurassic Park is almost beside the point, because the idea itself is sheer genius. There’s several points in the novel where characters basically just explain how pleased with himself Crichton must have been with the whole thing. Everyone loves dinosaurs! Especially kids! And boy will they pay a lot of money to see them! Turns out, they sure did. And do. They’re still making movies, and despite being pretty bad, people still watch them. Because dinosaurs, and Chris Pratt, rule. Anyway, the concept is brilliant and the novel is definitely more concerned with the science behind the dinosaurs than it is with the people who are in danger of getting eaten. There’s a reason the most sympathetic characters are those who understand the “true” science. It’s like a fairy-tale for math nerds. And while I’m not a math nerd, I kinda wish I was, so books like this resonate with me sometimes. I remember my favorite parts being when people would stare at computer code or obscure screens and say smart-sounding things, only to be undone by their hubris.
It’s kind of amazing how well I remember what happens in this book, considering the ocean of time that has passed since the last time I read it. I remember one of my favorite bits happening relatively early on, when Ian Malcom is being all wise and shit and starts pointing out flaws in the system. Specifically, when they’re all looking at the computer inventory of how many dinos actually live on the island, and then Malcom is all like “what happens when you look for more dinosaurs than the computer expects” and there’s totally way more dinos! That moment, which I still enjoy, is basically all the vindication Malcom needs for his chaos theory ramblings. The dinosaurs breed, which they were specifically engineered not to do, and that fact alone undermines every other single aspect of the park. Everything else that happens, the power outages and maulings and whatnot, are simply downwind effects of that first mutation. The human-made systems are doomed to fail, to collapse, and the nature-made systems of universal chaos are bound to succeed. It’s like a life-affirming kind of entropy, which is not usually what we do around here.
There is quite a bit of discount-brand philosophizing going on in Jurassic Park, which I think I still enjoy but definitely thought was extremely smart when I was a kid. It’s all a little on the nose, but this is a mass market sci-fi book about rampaging dinosaurs so I guess it’s better than nothing. Ian Malcom’s character basically only exists to pontificate on this front, while Alan Grant is there to be the more grounded, real-world science man. Hammond, of course, is the weaselly business-slime who represents hubris. Everyone is colored with extremely broad strokes, but everyone has a job to do. Even if that job is to be a coward and get eaten by a T-Rex so that everyone knows that cowards don’t prosper. And whatever. I still enjoy Malcom patiently explaining why the park is doomed to failure and why Hammond’s ambitions are so contemptable. It breaks up all the running and hiding, you know?
One thing that surprised me is Crichton’s obvious stance against the encroaching privatization of science. Hammond is every bit the amoral capitalist, almost a pure libertarian. He moves his extremely dangerous park off shore, out of reach of any kind of government regulation. Hammond specifically says on multiple occasions that he is entirely there to make obscene amounts of money. He clearly cuts corners where safety and infrastructure are concerned, and then claims that he has spared no expense. And yet, for all of this, Crichton doesn’t necessarily lay all the blame for what happens at Hammond’s feet. Rather, there are multiple exchanges where characters lament the privatization of science. How universities are no longer at the forefront of discovery and corporations are, despite their recklessness and prioritization of profit. There comes a point where Malcom basically calls science itself the villain. That concept isn’t itself new or surprising, but coming from a science fiction novel like this, it kind of is. Even Grant comes under scrutiny, when Malcom straight up asks him what one of his digs looks like when they’re done. Oh, you know, just a little more environmental blight, nothing big.
Elements of these ideas come out in the film, if I recall correctly, mostly concerning the broader points of Malcom’s theories and of course life finding a way. Jurassic Park, the novel, comes off as quite a bit more pessimistic. It’s sad. The novel ends with a great swarming nest of velociraptors lining up to migrate, performing their ancient instincts, and it’s a magnificent scene. Of course they all must be destroyed because they’re so absurdly dangerous, but it’s not like they asked to be brought back from the mists of time. I guess the point might be a little trite – just because we can doesn’t mean we should – but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. No bigger picture lessons are learned at the end of this book. Hammond literally cannot comprehend anything Ian Malcom says, and ends up blaming everyone and everything not himself for the failure of his enterprise. The only reason he doesn’t just do it again is because he was eaten by scavenger lizard-chickens in the end. The baddies all get what they deserve, but structures they represent do not.