On November 4, 2008 the world lost one of its most talented writers in the realm of Science Fiction (and real science for that matter) - Michael Crichton. Born October 23, 1942, he was only 66 when he passed away.
The author, director, and producer lost a quiet battle to throat cancer which had not been made public until he passed away from it unexpectedly.
I was first introduced to Crichton through his books, “Andromeda Strain” to be exact, when I was in middle school. And the movie that was made based upon that book is still powerful to me. (The re-creation of that movie by A&E, not so much.) I have continued to devour books by Crichton ever since; “Terminal Man”, “Coma”, “Sphere”, “Jurassic Park”, and “Prey” are my favorites.
Then he started making movies. Andromeda Strain, Westworld, Jurassic Park, Sphere, and Twister. He also helped to produce the television series “ER” (based partially upon his experiences as a medical student.)
The amazing thing about Crichton’s SciFi books and movies was that they didn’t seem that far-fetched. In Entertainment Weekly Magazine, author Stephen King writes, “…he made you believe that cloning dinosaurs wasn’t just over the horizon but possible tomorrow. Maybe today.” That is what made them all the more frightening. And if those Brachiosaurs seem plausible, just how far are we from having genetic implants placed in our heads?
The genius behind Michael Crichton is partially due to the fact that he was a genius. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, got his MD from Harvard medical school, and did his postdoctoral fellowship at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The really amazing part about all this is that medical school was his fall back plan in case his writing career didn’t succeed.
Lucky for us that it did.
He started writing his first novels while still in medical school under the pen name, John Lange. The Lange pseudonym is actually a tongue-in-cheek poke at himself, making light of his extraordinary height (6’9”) Lange is a German surname that means tall one. His first success came in 1968 with “A Case of Need” which won him the Edgar Award. “The Andromeda Strain” was written the next year, and after that his career as a novelist was set. No need to fall back on that medical degree after all.
However, all that medicine did come in handy, as the majority of his novels and movies do center around some sort of biological advancement; usually telling us to be careful how to use them.
His movies do not come off as preachy, but deliver the warnings in a way that hit home and make us think. In Jurassic Park Dr. Ian Malcolm criticizes the dinosaur park and its creator and sums up the entire problem in one fell swoop:
“I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility... for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox….”
In 1994 Crichton had the amazing distinction of having a #1 movie - Jurassic Park, #1 book – “Disclosure”, and #1 television show – “ER” all at the same time.
Michael Crichton was truly a great story teller whose talent reached across all mediums. He will be greatly missed.