Sorry to once again be the (late) bearer of bad news, but the (late) Bard of Brachiosaurs, Michael Crichton, has died. Barring a mosquito that drank his blood on a beach vacation, then rested on a tree only to be stuck in the sap, trapped in amber, and preserved for millions of years until his DNA is extracted and cloned by intelligent lizard-scientists, the author of Jurassic Park will not give us any more books.
This news came as a surprise — Crichton apparently kept his cancer pretty secret, and he was only 66, but even though he’s a pretty major figure in our culture (at least I think so), he’s not really a celebrity, so I guess the surprise that he had been gravely ill and was no more was in itself not especially surprising.
I mean, everybody’s gotta go sometime, right? And if you’re going to go, better to go, you know, after your medical practice and after your big basketful of bestselling novels have pretty much all been made into generally classy movies of a variety of success ranging from “meh” to (somewhat briefly) “highest grossing movie ever.”
What I’m saying is that he had a good run, and I wish we could all do as much for people as Michael Crichton did.
If I may indulge, a few personal thoughts on Mr. Crichton’s achievements, what he’s meant to me, and why I’m sad to see him go…
I read Jurassic Park all in one sitting.
Well, I got up to go to the bathroom a couple of times, but my family used to drive back and forth from New Jersey to North Carolina for summer vacations, and I remember that I read the entire book in one day’s worth of driving. I was 13. But I just tore into it — I loved dinosaurs, and I loved Golden Age science fiction — guys like Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov who tended to isolate a certain human element in their stories and change specific things around that element, showing how people might react to new situations (not exactly an outlandish aim for science fiction, I know, but I was 13). And I loved dinosaurs.
To 13 or 14 year-old me, Crichton was a rush. I loved his style, I loved his subject matter, and I loved how much I learned about stuff when I read his books. It all seemed so fantastic, but a lot of it was pretty grounded in reality. I still refer to magnetically sealed doors (usually the kind that need to be unlocked via prox-cards) as “Jurassic Park doors.” Even the computer readouts seemed exotic.
In the early 90s to a 13 year old kid, Literature was Crichton, Clancy and Grisham — these were the pre-Rowling, non-romantic pop novelists who bridged the gap between genre fiction and event entertainment. I had one glorious summer with them – in 1993, I read a total of 11 of their books. I remember it was 1993 because I remember mentioning it in my 7th grade English class. Most of those had been read in a three-week period.
I was quite proud of myself, but I’d also had a blast doing it. And all those books were worn down and creased and weathered, because I brought them with me to the beach every day. There it was, sand, sun, surf, all of it, and there I was, slowly subburning while I plowed through Congo, full steam ahead.
It’s weird to say this about what was at one time the highest grossing film ever made, but Jurassic Park is an underrated movie. Yeah, there are other movies that were bright and captivating collaborations between Steven Spielberg, George Lucas (via Industrial Light and Magic) and John Williams that were better, and some that were worse, but almost every movie that comes out today owes something to Jurassic Park.
Yeah, Crichton didn’t really so much do the movie, and there are a ton of differences and “inaccuracies” and whatnot, but there’s a really keen tone to Jurassic Park the novel that I think inspired it — just a relationship between the book and imagination that connected really strongly with a lot of people.
My main thrust here is that, if you’re looking for a reason to criticize or discard a list of “top twenty this” or “top one hundred that,” and that list includes movie franchises or science fiction, Jurassic Park probably isn’t on there, so it’s probably a pretty good inroad to getting that criticism going.
After 1993, I never again read one of Crichton’s books. Eh, maybe I went back and picked up Rising Sun after I saw the Sean Connery / Wesley Snipes movie with the woman on the table (I think other things happened too, but that was all I remember). Maybe. But that summer never really returned, and I never really felt motivated to go back and read The Andromeda Strain again. I don’t think Michael Crichton’s deck provides that motivation for me.
But for me, Michael Crichton will always be associated with that very specific moment in time, which was a very important one to me in the maturation of my relationship with literature. And for that I thank him deeply.
Do you have any Michael Crichton thoughts/remembrances/stories? Share them in the comments!
Oh, and I haven’t mentioned why I remember I read Jurassic Park in one sitting.
Because after I finished it, I remember sitting in a family seafood restaurant of one sort of another (something beach-like) and relating every single event in the book to my family in rapid fire.
And then, the compys were coming . . . !
And then, the velociraptors started biting through the bars across the top of the command center . . . !
And then . . . !
And then . . . !
It’s a pretty common way that kids that age tell stories, but it’s very asymmetrical. It’s kind of bothersome to the listener, but downright thrilling for the kid. Every time a younger tells me a story like that, I make sure to listen, because behind that revving verbal engine their brain is probably doing something special.
And maybe it was inspired by the life and work of someone special, as well.
Pour one out for Michael Crichton. Mourn you till I join you.
I was a bit younger than you when I read “Jurassic Park,” and I liked it, but I was more into historical fiction, creative non-fiction, and fantasy, so (I think) that and “The Lost World” are the only books by him that I read. Have you any ideas as to what he felt about “Jurassic Park 3” or the up-coming fourth movie? Or even of the first two, for that matter? I never really heard what he thought about all of the film adaptations of his books.
Michael Crichton was involved in Jurassic Park a lot, but wasn’t involved in The Lost World or Jurassic Park III that much, and it kind of pissed him off.
He got involved in movie and TV production after his work started crossing over. He was the executive producer of a lot of his stuff – most notably of _ER_, which is one of his babies I really should or could have mentioned in my elegy if I had really identified with that part of his work personally.
So, yeah, for a lot of authors, it’s either “I exert only a little bit of control and are okay with it” or “I exert a lot of control and frequently get frustrated.” For Crichton, eventually it became “I do it myself.”
Fenzel, I’m right with you: I tore through thousands of pages of Clancy and Chrichton during my youth. After a long hiatus, I recently picked up some of Chrichton’s more recent books, “Prey” (about nano-bots gone awry) and “Next” (about genetically engineered super-apes). Though neither had quite inspired the same awe that “Jurassic Park” did, they still had the same “shock with real science gone bad” quality that left you a little disturbed every time you put down the book.
As for Clancy…now that’s a whole other topic of discussion. Where is Jack Ryan now?
Jurassic Park: My first Michael Crichton, started on a beach vacation when I was in … 4th grade? 5th? My parents and the other grown-ups were at a neighbor’s beach house drinking, leaving me to my own devices. They could do this because, when left to my own devices, reading quietly was the sort of thing I was likely to do.
Anyhow, I’m in a beach house at night, with the blackness of the ocean filling the windows behind me, and I read the prologue where the baby compys break into the Costa Rican mom’s house and eat her baby, and I promptly flip the fuck out.
The Andromeda Strain: Tried this in 7th grade. I got through the creepy town full of corpses (again, flipping the fuck out), the emergency assembly of scientists, the decontamination ritual and the initial briefing. Then I zoned out through about 100 pages of science, only to tune back in during the thrilling conclusion.
Sphere: Beach vacation, 8th grade; flipped the fuck out.
Congo: I can’t put a firm date on when I read this one. However, my very first exposure to it came when a kid was reading it surreptitiously next to me in French class in 7th grade. “Dude,” he whispered, sliding it beneath his desk. He indicated the passage in the prologue where one of the gorillas throws a human eyeball at the protagonist. I flipped the fuck out.
Rising Sun: I actually read this in the spring of 2006, the weekend nearest my birthday, having bought it from a used bookstore in Kenmore Square. I’m sure that Crichton’s warnings about the Japanese business powerhouse looked really intimidating in the days before zero percent interest rates; as it is, I just found it comical.
Wow. I didn’t know he passed. That’s sad.
I loved Congo and remember reading it when I was young and feeling quite accomplished because of that. I loved Amy. I absolutely hated the movie (it almost ruined the book for me). Actually, this was the book/movie that made me decide to never both read and watch something ever again. If this comment makes no sense, sorry guys. I’m sick and have a very foggy head right about now, but felt to need to comment anyway.
He wasn’t a celebrity, and yet he was. At one time ranked high in People’s most eligible bachelors, he was the toast of hollywood and the book world. Two worlds that get together only rarely and usually bitterly.
In some ways he will always be under rated. His style was minialistic in many ways. His characters were mostly cyphers. Yet, he was always even in his worst works INTERESTING. Bringing together thoughts and plots in a way that always got one thinking.
In my mind, it is always the andromeda strain that I go back to. The recent remake should be seen to just show the strengths of the original work and the robert wise movie.
Sometimes less is more.
I will miss him.
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Good riddance. A summation of basically why:
The three stars of my tween years were John Irving, Michael Crichton, and John Grisham. Say what you want about traditionalist-conceived literary value, but at the time, they all made my “brain do something special” — and to give a person that gift is a get-out-of-jail free card on the whole “genre fiction” issue, even if you believe that genre fiction is somehow beneath literary fiction. Because giving that gift is something that good people do. And good people are, by definition, good.
(Also, does it say bad things about me that the main thing I remember from Red Dragon is not the woman on the table, but suddenly knowing what autoerotic asphyxiation was?)
I’ve had three favorite writers: C.S. Lewis (from Chronicles of Narnia to the space trilogy to Mere Christianity, Problem of Pain, Great Divorce, etc.), Michael A. Stackpole (but only his Star Wars Expanded universe books on Rogue Squadron and X-Wing pilots) and Michael Crichton.
I own just about all Crichton’s works, despite not being aware of them until high school, which was late 90’s, and most of the books legitimately creeped me out, especially if I read them at night!
Jurassic Park and The Lost World are great to read back to back, but Congo and Andromeda Strain scared the poop out of me. So did Sphere, despite the lack of killer sharks, which I thought would have been a no-brainer for a story taking place underwater (but I guess kudos to him for avoiding such a contrivance). I love medieval and ancient warfare, and I majored in math, so the quasi-quantum physics and battles in Timeline were thoroughly enjoyable. Terminal Man, Airframe, Disclosure, Rising Sun, Prey and the global warming one were all interesting reads as well.
I guess my favorite Crichton-moment in my life was eliciting weird stares from my uncle and aunt when my then-high school sophomore self laughed off the animatronic gorillas in the movie Congo, citing “they were much scarier with stone paddles!”