It really grinds my gears when people makes analogies about Michael Crichton*; they’ll say, “Well, what John Grisham is to legal thrillers, Michael Crichton is to science thrillers, and Stephen King is to horror.” Don’t get me started about Stephen King. Comparing him to John Grisham is a little ridiculous.
But poor Michael Crichton! He’s stuck in the middle of this analogy that I come across far too often. I love Michael Crichton; I don’t want his writing to be generally panned because (gasp!) it has action!
Michael Crichton was a powerhouse of a writer. (He died November 4, 2008. His death didn’t get much press because it was Election Day. I cried.) You have probably read one of his books, and if you haven’t seen any of the movies adapted from his novels, you must live in a hole. He created the television series ER, which was based on his experiences as an emergency ward doctor. (Yeah, he went to Harvard Medical School after graduating summa cum laude from Harvard College.) In short, he was a hard-working guy, and his work permeated American culture.
Not only that, but everything he wrote was well-researched. He didn’t start writing Timeline without doing some homework about the Occitan language and what people wore in the early 1300s. (He has some interesting things to say about Timeline on his site.) When he wrote Jurassic Park, his arguably most famous novel, he consulted with notable paleontologists and mathematicians; yes, he mangled some facts about the possibilities of cloning dinosaurs from DNA found in amber-encased insects, but it’s a novel. He freely admits in the postscript of Jurassic Park that any mistakes or liberties he took with the information were his own, and shouldn’t reflect negatively upon the experts with whom he consulted.
Crichton had the ability to make science make sense. In Sphere, one of my
personal favorites, Harry and Ted, two of the main characters, explain space-time to another character, Norman. They don’t dumb it down. Harry and Ted, a mathematician and an astrophysicist, respectively, turn these wildly mind-bending concepts into things that normal people can understand. In order to teach something, you really need to comprehend it inside and out, and Crichton obviously understood a lot about how the universe works.
Many of his novels concern temptation and what people will sacrifice for money and power. No one is perfect in Crichton’s work, and a lot of people are pretty evil; think of the entire InGen corporation in Jurassic Park and other novels. Essentially, Crichton asks his readers the same questions in each book: what is your price? What would it take for you to ruin other people’s lives? One million? Two million? Would you risk your life for a huge sum of money?
Of all his work, I think the two Jurassic Park novels are my favorites; they are like old friends I visit once a year or so. I first read Jurassic Park for my summer reading assignment in fifth grade. I remember asking my mom what “disembowel” meant. She told me, I said, “Cool!” and then I kept reading. She sort of did a double-take and then left me to my dinosaurs. I didn’t understand a lot of the novel that first time around, but two years later, I revisited Isla Nublar with Drs. Grant and Sattler. The movie, which I saw just after I read the book, while not as amazing as the novel, is still one of my go-to action movies of choice. (Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm? Thank you, casting agent, for being a genius.)
As I mentioned above, you’ve probably read a Michael Crichton novel, or at least, you might have seen a movie based on one. I love Michael Crichton because his writing is well-researched, smart, exciting, and oddly comforting. Here are some of my personal recommendations.
Start with this one if you’ve never read any Crichton. It has dinosaurs, genetics, chaos theory, and egomaniacal corporate honchos.
A covert military operation tries to figure out a mysterious sphere that has appeared on the ocean floor. The character list sort of reads like a “…walk into a bar” joke: a psychologist, a mathematician, an astrophysicist, a zoologist, and some military folks. Do not see the movie: it is terrible.
Archaeologists go back in time to rescue a colleague and get a lot more than they bargained for in the process. (Amusing point about the movie: in the scene where the invading army is using a trebuchet to attack the castle, the subtitle font is Trebuchet.)
This is sort of a Crichton deviation: it’s not about science! This was published posthumously in November 2009, and it’s pretty fantastic for basically being a first draft. Ships, treasure, scurvy: it’s all here.
What author do you love? Let us know in the comments!
*Pronounced KRY-tuhn, not CRITCH-ton. (I have actually heard people say this.)