“The Edge of Chaos”: The Lost World by Michael Crichton


I read Jurassic Park for the first time a year ago, and I found that I actually enjoyed the novel just as much—if not more—than the film. Its sequel, written by Michael Crichton at the demand of Steven Spielberg and a dinosaur-ravenous public, feels disconnected from the original in some ways, but also develops on the previous book in surprising ways. It also doesn’t connect to any of the film sequels in the way that one would suspect of a book written specifically for film adaptation later. Hollywood doesn’t know quality when they see it sometimes.

The novel starts with Dr. Ian Malcolm—presumed dead at the end of Jurassic Park—lecturing on extinction and providing theories as to why behavior led to the decline of the dinosaurs. The reader gets some backstory as to why Malcolm was chosen as a consultant to Jurassic Park in the first place, because he’s a chaos (complexity) theorist who uses mathematics to understand extinction. That seems fairly relevant to dinosaurs if you ask me. A scientist in the audience, Levine, questions his theory and gradually drags him into a search for a ‘lost world’, a place where dinosaurs might have survived extinction.

In the film, getting Malcolm to the island is as simple as Dr. Hammond saying that his girlfriend is on the island, but in The Lost World there is no Dr. Hammond, no girlfriend, and the reason for going on this expedition is as simple as because “Science!” As such, there’s a lot of plot and character development in the beginning of the novel before any of the characters really touch down on the island. This leads to a lot of mystery and tension-building as they hunt for the island, as the reader realizes that BioSyn (InGen’s competitor from the first novel; lots of biotechnological warfare here) is still after dinosaurs and will do almost anything to get there, and as Levine goes missing on an unknown island near Costa Rica.

There’s a big information dump in the beginning of the film that isn’t present in the book because the reader comes to gradually learn the information, and that’s way more satisfying—the whole show, don’t tell thing. Michael Crichton seems to enjoy having multiple layers to his novels that mostly work, but it’s also like the ending of Return of the King. Just when you think the novel is coming to a close there’s something else to worry about, but it’s realistic that way I suppose.

The Lost World, Jurassic Park III, and Jurassic World seem to have borrowed a few elements from the novel sequel, but not in a tangible way that makes sense the way the book does. There is a plot about the island the dinosaurs were manufactured on, about what happens when you steal dinosaur eggs, and about dinosaurs who can camouflage. Other than that, The Lost World novel is its own story with characters who differ from their movie interpretations.

Ian Malcolm, perpetually stuck in the body of Jeff Goldblum, is surprisingly useless for a good half of the book for being one of the male leads. While he does wax poetically about dinosaurs, extinction, and complexity theory, he doesn’t have much of an overall impact in the way that other characters do. If anything, he’s supposed to be a stand in for the reader—someone who has some information about the situation, but is not much help in danger. Levine, another male lead, is an excellent example of the overzealous scientist type, the kind of person who gets so absorbed in a project that he’s willing to forgo common sense. Thorne, an engineer who designs their vehicles, is the straight man to all the crazy scientists. Eddie, an excitable mechanic/engineer, is a common sense type of person, but also is in perpetual amazement of the dinosaurs. Kelly and Arby, two teens along for the ride, do their part to be useful and are way less annoying than Lex was in the first novel. Dodgsen and his BioSyn associates are fairly bland bad guys compared to the well-developed protagonists and beyond greed their motives aren’t really defined.

But the best, hands down, character of the entire novel is Dr. Sarah freaking Harding. As with Ellie Sattler, the badass females of the Jurassic Park universe don’t get enough justice when they’re on film. Sarah Harding is reduced to damsel-in-distress paleontologist and that’s not fair. The only reason people live at the end of this novel is because of her. She’s not a paleontologist at all—she’s a biologist who studies predators in Africa. And yet she brings her savanna savvy to the jungles of a deadly dinosaur island and kicks total ass. If anything, she’s the hero and Malcolm is the damsel-in-distress.

Seriously, Sarah Harding jumped into my top ten female protagonist list pretty damn fast. She is not afraid to get dirty, bloody, or violent if need be. She’s smart, understands sexism in the science field, makes valuable contributions to the survival of the party, and is an excellent role model for young Kelly to follow. At least 75% of the ‘hell yes’ moments in this book are because of her.

So if you’re looking for a book about dinosaurs, science gone wrong, or the theory of extinction, read this book. If you’re looking for a badass female protagonist who saves the day while doing science, read this book. If you want to read a book of real science fiction then pick this up because you will learn a lot of theory and history while enjoying a story at the same time. Why make up your science and technology when there are thousands of academic papers theorizing things for you? While there are a few minor continuity errors between books, The Lost World is a suitable sequel to its predecessor and is a book that won’t go extinct from my bookshelf anytime soon.