In a near-future world of transgenic hybrids and genetic augmentations, an escalating battle is waged between BioGen, a monolithic biogenetics company, and the private citizens whose genes BioGen has patented—to determine who really owns the information carried within our own bodies. Frank Burnett has just survived a rare and extremely lethal form of leukemia, only to learn that his battle isn't over. The university hospital treating him recognizes that Frank has only survived due to some quirk of his genes, and knowing how valuable this could be, they've sold a batch of Frank's cells to BioGen, who have every intention of monetizing their new purchase. Frank sues to have his cells returned, but the judge rules in favor of the university and BioGen.
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This is, of course, quite unsettling to Frank, but he accepts it and tries to move on with his life. That is until some industrial sabotage causes Frank's cell culture to be destroyed, and now BioGen moves to press their claim to the cells still inside Frank's body. Frank, though, is tipped off and flees. But unfortunately BioGen is not without recourse, and they turn to Frank's biological heirs to extract what genetic information they can, with or without consent. BioGen hires a bounty hunter named Vasco Borden to track down Frank's daughter, Alex, and grandson, Jaime. Borden finds them, but Alex fights him off and somehow manages to escape with her son. Since they can't return to any place Borden might already know of, they set out for the home of an old friend, Lynn, whom she hasn't spoken to in some time, to hopefully hide and plan their next move.
Lynn's family, meanwhile, is preoccupied with their own issues. Her husband, Henry, a genetic researcher, has stolen a human-chimp hybrid named Dave from his lab. Dave was scheduled for destruction, and Henry, who had grown close to Dave, couldn't just stand by and let that happen. He brings Dave home and assimilates him into their domestic life. Lynn is reluctant at first, but Dave becomes close with their son, even protecting him from a bully at school, and she decides to him stay.
Alex and Jaime soon arrive, but, unbeknownst to them, the bounty hunter has been secretly following them the whole way. He tries to kidnap Jaime, but he grabs Lynn's son by mistake. Seeing his adopted brother in danger, Dave jumps out and, with his chimp strength, beats the hell out of Vasco, taking him temporarily out of commission. But Vasco didn't come alone, and, in the mayhem, his partner successfully makes off with Jaime. To make matters worse, BioGen has successfully maneuvered to have Alex arrested for theft for stealing her and her son's cells from their "rightful" owners, i.e. BioGen.
What follows are some courtroom pyrotechnics, where Alex's lawyers successfully argue that the ownership of a person's cells is slavery in miniature, and thereby violates the constitution. Alex is released, BioGen is foiled, Jaime is saved, and the Lynn's adoption of a chimp-boy becomes national news, marking the evolution of the nuclear family and a new era of transgenic cohabitation. But there are hints that while BioGen may have lost the battle, the biotech industry as a whole is quite ready to press on and win the war.
Best part of story, including ending:
Just a flat out ridiculous story. Late-career Crichton is a pretty bad novelist, and this book is, in my opinion, a pretty blatant example of this. The plot jumps around to attend to minor subplots that only suck energy out of the main plot thread, and the premise itself is so didactically represented that it's hard to feel like it's anything other than a thinly-disguised op-ed piece. I did like the chimp-boy, though.
Best scene in story:
Just about any scene with chimp-boy Dave was fun. Crichton staged the "battle" between him and the bounty hunter fairly well; it was intense and showed some of the old flair that Jurassic Park, Timeline, Eaters of the Dead, etc. possessed in abundance.
Opinion about the main character:
There is no primary protagonist, but Alex, as the closest thing to one, is also one of the few adult characters to incite any real empathy and interest. Her motivations are direct and powerful: she just wants to protect her son. This might not make her the deepest character ever, but it does make her relatively believable and interesting (which is far and away beyond most of the other characters in the book).