Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Lost World

Michael Crichton The Lost World (1995)

I remember enjoying the film. In fact I remember enjoying this book last time I read it, but I guess that was a while ago, back when I was less fancy than I am these days. Once both myself and the book reviews algorithm of the Sunday Express found Crichton's Jurassic Park sequel gripping, but we have since gone our separate ways. These days I am distracted by the science which whilst fascinating and possibly legitimate is phrased as though cribbed from Reader's Digest, or at least something with the sterile tang of dentist's waiting room; and the story wanders as though plotted by a small child, new developments unfolding as they occur to him and each new character introduced with a big copypasta wodge of notes from the original plot outline. In this respect The Lost World seemed painfully formulaic, Lawrence Burton decided.

He was about five foot seven. He had brown hair. He sat frowning at the computer, thinking back to those morning's spent reading Crichton's Lost World, struggling to recall if the film had been quite so bad. He wore beige trousers and a cheese hat. He enjoyed country ham and biscuits but hated paying taxes. His wife's name was Phyliss, and she was very, very pretty.

The Lost World is four-hundred pages of undifferentiated suspense upon which Crichton has stuck a succession of sciencey post-it notes, far too many of them opening with scientists believe, presumably so as to avoid either naming any name which might get in the way of the plot by making it look a bit stupid, or committing the tale to anything which could turn out to be bollocks should anyone get around to inventing Google.

Scientists believe - for example - that the pyramids of Egypt could not have been built without recourse to extraterrestrial technology, which is the sort of thing that crackpots, the Daily Mail, and crackpots who write for the Daily Mail tend to peddle, scientists in this case usually meaning a bloke who has studied at Oxford in the sense of having once been there on the National Express and read a few pages of some book about flying saucers in the shop before buying it.

I gather Crichton didn't really want to write this one and it sort of shows, as though he grudgingly accepted the job on the grounds of it being paying work upon which to hang a couple of pet theories for the sake of making it less of a chore, and because paying work is always better than a kick up the arse. The pet theories in question derive from chaos mathematics, which here supposedly support the idea that dinosaur extinction came down to shifting behavioural algorithms 'n' shit, as opposed to a bloody great asteroid screwing up the entire planet for a few hundred years. Chaos theory demonstrates that dinosaurs possibly forgot how to take care of their young and became chavs. I suppose it works if you really want it to, but I can't help feel it's one of those fancy designer ideas explaining something which already has a much better explanation, namely the one about the aforementioned asteroid.

Dinosaurs accordingly enter the narrative in convenient sequence like the prizes on Brucie's conveyor belt or the cast of one of those books in which the cow says moo, immediately followed by the duck saying quack. The fossil record for maiasaurus, for example, preserves her skeleton along with those of a clutch of her hatchling young, and so she has a name which translates as Caring Mother Lizard which must surely be more of an accident of geology than an indictment of the parenting skills of other dinosaurs; but nevertheless Crichton's cast of yelping scientistics encounter maiasaurs busily preparing oven chips and mini-pizzas for their young, helpfully illustrating their characteristic qualities. This scene is followed by the dome-headed pachycephalosaurs headbutting things in illustrative spirit. Had there ever been a dinosaur known for its expert knowledge of fine wines, the next chapter would have doubtless unfolded just as a pachycephalosaur nuts their battered transport, busting open the trunk and spilling bottles of Chateau Latour-Martillac across the savannah.

I think that's most of the jokes I can be bothered to wring out of this one, and they should be sufficient to give a reasonable impression of how gripping this novel really isn't. If not, then it's probably worth considering that even Spielberg's big screen exercise in hot-dog retail dispensed with most of Crichton's story. It's possibly less offensive than what Conan Doyle did with the same title, but that isn't saying much.


  1. I can't keep up with you! How do you manage to read so many books and write about them in such short spaces of time? Whats the secret?

    1. Not sure - didn't think I was particularly a fast reader. I usually read an hour in bed each morning before I get up and then another before I go to sleep. Sometimes I have a couple of these reviews backed up, which might give a false impression of speed when I post them on consecutive days.

  2. Right. It's just that each time I drop by there's a whole new load of reviews that you've written up. I applaud your productivity - and your creativity.