Michael Crichton Jurassic Park (1990)
I've always been a sucker for anything involving dinosaurs, and saw the film version of Jurassic Park during the first week of its release. Tellingly I was the oldest person in the entire cinema, surrounded entirely by school kids who, having seen it all before, sat idly crunching popcorn and probably wondering what the fuck was wrong with the old bloke who kept shitting himself and leaping ten foot in the air every time a CGI reptile broke wind.
Inevitably I snapped up the novel, and my girlfriend of the time thoughtfully bought me a Jurassic Park school set including pencil case, ruler, and notepad. With hindsight I can't help but wonder if she was taking the piss, but never mind. I recall the novel as amazing, but looking back I am now forced to concede that I was simply more easily impressed back then, largely by virtue of not being particularly well read. Not like nowadays...
Michael Crichton certainly has a talent, and the great strength of this novel is its science, particularly if you hold slightly evangelical views endorsing the endothermic over the ectothermic model of dinosaur metabolism and are likely to punch the air when an author namechecks palaeontologist Robert T. Bakker, as I do and did. To deal with specifics, it's not so much the letter of the science involved as the vivid thrust of massive ideas, even the truly ropey stuff like amphibian DNA as a sort of genetic polyfiller allowing us to clone dinosaurs despite it being effectively impossible - hardly a serious literary crime, or at least no more so than any tale set on another planet or featuring talkative aliens. Even more amazing is that Crichton delivers his occasionally shaky science in great big awkward chunks of exposition, lectures delivered in answer to questions that no-one asked, and still he gets away with it.
To be brutally honest, the characters are flat and the prose is extraordinarily repetitive, reading as though written for a much younger audience with protagonists directly referred to by name, sentence after sentence: Jim looked at the red cup, but then that was Jim for you; Jim scoffed a pizza, the pizza that the man had given to Jim; Jim; Jim; Jim; Jim; Jim over and over like in Peter and Jane for those with the attention span of a goldfish who might have forgotten the identity of the only person in the entire scene. This isn't to say that it's technically wrong so much as bland: none of which seems to make much difference to a story that remains gripping from start to finish despite the fact that the fucking thing shouldn't work at all. I'm not sure I've read anything else with quite such serious problems which nevertheless delivers the goods in spite of itself.
I'm not convinced that Jurassic Park was a good film even in the sense of Invasion of the Astro-Monsters being a good film, but still I loved every minute; except perhaps for Richard Attenborough's delivery of the line welcome to Jurassic Park, Spielberg's characteristic diabetes-inducing fetishisation of the kiddies, and the darling, let's have a baby shite. Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Peck, and Samuel L. Jackson are always good for business, actors who could probably wring Taxi Driver intensity from a Bob the Builder script. Somehow though, whilst there's a strong argument for the film being a story rescued from its author, the book wins out for all that it is undoubtedly flawed, even shite by some definition - a lovely song played on bum-trumpet, arse-bugle and smegma-bagpipes.