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Title: "Next"
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Harper Collins (2006)

Crichton writes in the grey zone between literature, informative science-based books, and rippingly good pulp. In this novel, he takes his most literary approach, one reminiscent of Richard Dawkins re-writing "Naked Lunch," in which characters stumble through an uncertain world in several overlapping threads united by a common theme: the confrontation of humankind with genetic manipulation and the unintended consequences of manipulating a code we only partially understand.

As literature, Crichton is a bit sloppy. His language remains consistent, and while functionally descriptive, isn't what one might call intense reading. His characters are often thin in a way that approaches a single dimension. When he gets into heavy drama, he's sometimes awkward. In this book he resolves that tension by writing it as a tour of different lives that only partially follows any one set of characters, although they overlap. It's the Quentin Tarantino-ization of an otherwise clinical style.

Unlike most Crichton books, there are no characters who come to happy endings and no neat summary of the story at the end. It is a buffet of insights and tantalizing ideas, but no conclusions. This seems deliberate, both to promote an air of uncertainty about the book and to allow it to look at a complex issue without dumbing it down into Disney-style cause and effect in trite symbols. In this, Crichton seems ahead of any literature produced since the 1950s in America.

Where he deviates from both literary fiction and pulp is what might be called "thematic ultra-realism," or the concept that books should be about ideas impacting the real world. Too much of American fiction at least is about the drama of characters reacting mutely to a world they do not attempt to understand, and in the name of "realism" that becomes greater drama. Since such characters need to move to a resolution, they start out hopelessly confused and living broken lives, and then magically bring themselves to a smiling pop princess press statement conclusion.

Reality is different. Crichton is a political writer taking on science, or vice versa, and the sense of real impact is what gives this book a hook into our interest. His book shows us reality, not the inward drama of lost people, in both its good and bad. We see the wonders of science, and how they're abused for profit. We see the gentle and compassionate nature of people, and how that becomes their undoing. Most of all, we see warts and all a species that is not ready for its knowledge and cannot control itself, so stumbles from one disaster to another, unaware that cumulative damage increases.

In this, Crichton should be praised as more of an artist than the "artists" who make fancy, smooth-reading, pompously egalitarian books about nothing and everything. What did we learn from a character transcending his own heroin addiction to find religion in the beauty of rain under sunlight? Literature has become a self-help section which tells us to focus on ourselves and our drama, not the world. Crichton by contrast is a devil's advocate with a sharp whip who reminds us: we're in control of this world, and we need to start steering it more responsibly.

Still, his prose is rooted in the pulp of both science fiction and popular science writings, so the book flies by and is sometimes unsatisfying. It is a story of ideas, and of the oddly emblematic situations Crichton weaves: turtles with corporate logos, human-chimpanzee hybrids, disease tracking markers and magic potions to change personality. Even more, it is a story that must be read "outside the story" to see the interactions between these developments producing a world that, it is hinted, we the reader still possessed of a soul might not enjoy. - Vijay Prozak


Title: "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson
Publisher: Penguin Books (2003)

Long before Alfred Hitchcock gave Norman Bates a mad mother, before Freddy appeared at the movie screens in "A nightmare on Elm Street", and fearless Romanticists of the modern age could exclaim "I'm an other at night," Robert Louis Stevenson set out to shock the whole of Britain with psychological terror. Indeed, with his remarkable tale of psychological and criminal suppression, he managed to terrorize the unsuspecting readers, forcing them into a position of unrestricted self-reflection of moral and social transgression never before experienced.

"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" tells of a lawyer named Utterson, whose friend Dr. Jekyll is experiencing troubles with an unknown individual called Mr. Hyde. When Utterson is given Jekyll's Will, explaining in detail how Mr. Hyde is supposed to inherit a large sum of money in the case of an eventual death or disappearance, he starts to feel that something is very wrong.

As it turns out, Jekyll refuses to give out information on who his secret friend is and why he's so important. In the mean time, a gruesome murder of a man named sir Danvers Carew is revealed, and the murderer seems to be none other than Mr. Hyde himself. As the story expands through uncertain individuals and strange occurrences, lacking all sense of logical reasoning, the brutal truth is finally revealed; Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are one and the same.

Through his brilliant narrative way of pushing the boundaries of contemporary horror, Stevenson managed to unfold a gruesome depiction of man as dual in nature that sparked endless analyses on behalf of psychologists, Darwinists and Romanticists alike. In Stevenson's story, Jekyll is struggling with his evil side, which is trying to take over his good side, and become the dominant personality in both physical and abstract (thinking) expression. Making this process even more complicated, Jekyll is revealed not as "good" in opposition to Hyde as "evil", but as mere representation of the human individual as a whole, including Hyde (thus transcending the dualistic state from which the story begins).

While Jekyll is described as a handsome looking and well-tempered person with many friends, Hyde is seen the complete opposite: primitive, indulgent, amoral and liberal in individual expression. Hyde has no limits, and even takes pride and joy in crossing the morally and socially acceptable limits of society - both murdering innocent people and engaging in other untold blasphemies. What is interesting is Jekyll's extremely complicated relation to his "evil" side; while Hyde always has been a natural part of Jekyll (in the sense of urges that wish to be set free), Hyde is also a psychological creation of Jekyll's conflict with the collective conscious (society).

"Jekyll had more than a father's interest; Hyde had more than a son's indifference. To cast in my lot with Jekyll, was to die to those appetites, which I had long secretly indulged and had of late begun to pamper. To cast it in with Hyde, was to die to a thousand interests and aspirations, and to become, at a blow and forever, despised and friendless." (Stevenson, Robert Louis, "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of Terror", p. 63, Penguin Books)

As Jekyll tries to hide his secret urges he automatically becomes ashamed of a natural part of himself and thereby works to form a growing bad conscious. This mechanism eventually grows to the point where Hyde gets loose, to free Jekyll from both his own and society's limits of social and moral acceptance. In other words, Jekyll is both "good" and "evil", which naturally places him in a dualistic state; but, as these are inseparable, Hyde is a part of Jekyll, and Jekyll is a part of Hyde - ultimately, there is no distinction.

While this can be seen as a metaphor for the paradox between the abstract (Jekyll/social urges) and the material (Hyde/physical urges), where both depend on each other even if the latter is demonized as "evil", "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" is far deeper and more complex than this. Similar to what philosophical thinkers such as Nietzsche realized, our distinction between moral "good" and "evil" ultimately normalizes itself down to a neutral point of view, which is that of the emptiness found within feral nihilism.

The more Jekyll tries to hide or demonize his natural urges (the acts and deeds committed by Hyde are simply narrative ways of further emphasizing this fact), the further his bad conscious and focus on evil(similar to how Judeo-Christian morality eventually becomes completely absobed by individual death and suffering, and in order to ventilate this internal conflict, becomes a virus, leading to psychological conflicts and physical expressions of amoral thinking) grows, until Hyde eventually destroys Jekyll from within. In other words, the moral and social outlook of both Jekyll and his social surroundings lead him to a state of complete nihilism, where Hyde is Jekyll, and Jekyll cannot survive with - or without - Hyde.

While Stevenson's story about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has led to endless debates in all aspects of science, evolutionary theory, class, and sexuality, our final understanding and learning from this baffling masterpiece in Gothic psychological horror is that a dualistic outlook on life is contra productive. There is no evil so great in this world that it does not carry elements of good, and while moral preaching's that demonize our natural urges and instincts may sound "reasonable" and "ethical" in appearance, the actual progress of such thinking taken to pragmatic effects becomes devastating. In this sense, Jekyll was subject to the very laws of nature that he wished to escape through social means, and even though readers of "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" will even today find their hearts beating fast to the descriptions of a madman gone lose in the foggy city of London, the actual realization that Hyde lives within us all, and that we willingly choose to deny his very existence, is perhaps the most shocking of all truths derived from this unbelievable contribution to world-class horror art. -Alexis

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