Revisiting the Past

A couple of days ago I finished Michael Crichton’s The Lost World. In a way I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed Jurassic Park, though I have to say that the explanation for Ian Malcom’s miraculous survival was far from convincing.

Anyway, setting aside that particular inconsistency, I liked the way in which the author took the time to update the paleontology and correct some of the mistakes that had made it into the first book, like the T-rex’s inability to see someone standing still… in fact I would say that over all the T-rexs’ behavior felt more coherent here than it did in the first book. Other than that, while Ian still had a tendency to be annoyingly right at times, it was a little less pronounced here than it was in Jurassic Park. Finally there was also the fact that the kids were way less obnoxious.

On the negative side of things we have the fact that at times this story seemed even more formulaic than the first one, maybe because, even though there are some significant differences between the book and the film, the book was clearly written with an eye on the movie.

That may serve to explain why the author felt it was necessary to include a bad guy (or three), in what comes across as a rather weak subplot. Personally I think the book would have been better off without them… but then again I wouldn’t want the dinosaurs to have to go hungry, so maybe the bad guys do serve a purpose. Another element that falls under that category is the kids’ presence. Yes, they are less obnoxious than their Jurassic Park counterparts, or at least one of them, but the explanation for their being there in the first place makes about as much sense as the one behind Ian Malcom’s survival.

On the scientific side of things there are some details that still come across as being either a little shaky or not properly explained (and by that I don’t just mean that there are aspects in which the science portrayed in the book has been left behind since it was first published). The two most obvious examples of this are the explanation of the prions and their predicted impact on the dinosaurs’ chances when it comes to their long term survival, and the way in which the dinosaurs’ behavioral issues, the ones derived from their unnatural origins, are handled.

When it comes to this second aspect the fact that the raptors are depicted as lacking the experience to care for their young –something that is coherent with what has been observed on animals raised in captivity– seems reasonable enough, but in this they are also an exception, as all the other species seem quite capable of caring for their offspring. In addition to that those same raptors are also depicted as hunting in a perfectly coordinated pack, albeit one that becomes dysfunctional immediately after the kill has been made. In other words, we have a situation in which the author seems to be picking sides on the nature vs nurture debate to suit his needs rather than doing it based on a fully coherent picture.

Another place in which the science seems to fall a bit short can be observed in the way in which, even though the characters acknowledge that the dinosaurs are different from anything they have ever seen, they keep modeling their behavior based on that of mammals… and yet this never really becomes much of an issue. In fact, going back to the prion issue that was mentioned a couple of paragraphs ago, all the instances of transmission of prion-based pathologies that are used as an example are based on mammal-to-mammal transmission, which the dinosaurs are not.

And finally, to top the list of things I felt were not properly explained, we have the sudden appearance of some animals on the mainland. Yes, I realize that this was necessary to set the plot in motion, but it still comes across as a rather sloppy work (maybe if the author had taken the space that was dedicated to the bad guys subplot and used it to address this issue in a more convincing fashion the book as a whole would have felt that much tighter).

In the end, and in spite of the problems I mentioned above, I have to say that, for a book that was written as an afterthought and that was meant to capitalize on a wildly successful franchise, it was a lot better than I was expecting it to be.

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