This month marks the late Michael Crichton’s 74th birth anniversary and it got me reminiscing about Jurassic Park.
Released in 1993, the film made box office history led to many other Crichton stories being filmed (Disclosure, Rising Sun, Congo, Sphere, Eaters of the Dead and of course Lost World). I have read a significant chunk of what Crichton has had to offer going back to Terminal Man and right up to Next. I don’t care much for his work earlier work under the pseudonym John Lange though Case of Need could be interesting to some.
I had just donned spanking new three strings that summer which I took to be a sign of adulthood and marked the occasion by making an earnest transition from Enid Blyton to the Hardy Boys and Three Investigators and refusing to read “comics”.
After having refused to let me see Jurassic Park in the theaters my dad came home one day with a crisp new paperback. He doesn’t really read fiction and the only non-religious books on his shelf to this day are The Tao of Physics & A Brief History of Time.
The embossed black T-Rex skeleton on the cover was inviting and I picked up the book when he wasn’t looking. I was hooked from the start. I eagerly read everything that Crichton had written until then and remember being thoroughly disappointed with Disclosure which had none of the sci-fi/action plot elements of his earlier works. (Rising Sun was at least entertaining.) I quickly moved on to Asimov, Clarke and other writers who were “truer” to the sci-fi genre and haven’t looked back since.
I did faithfully leaf through every new book Crichton came up with since but he was clearly past his prime by the early 2000s. After showing some promise with Timeline and Prey, in an almost M Night Shyamalan fashion, the quality of his work dwindled until I couldn’t force myself get to the end of Pirate Latitudes and after reading the sample of Micro recently chose not to download it on my Kindle.
But then again I came here to praise Caesar, not to bury him.
After dishing out a series of potboilers, Crichton had just written Andromeda Strain, his first real attempt at somewhat “hard” sci-fi, which was yet to achieve critical acclaim. He writes a review of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five in The New Republic which you can read here which opens a window into his mind. He uses the pretext of a review to lament the lack of good sci-fi that is also good fiction. He blames Verne and Wells for being romantics, berates Heinlein, Zelazny and Ballard for exploiting drug culture and accuses Kurt Vonnegut of being a charlatan – ‘There is also some business about a distant planet and flying saucers, but that does not make the book science fiction, any more than flippers make a cat a penguin.’ And then having finished this review he went on to write EXACTLY what he thought good science fiction should be for the next 30 years, making the genre both accessible and mainstream, giving millions of 80s kids a taste of it and getting them hooked for life.
Thank you for that Michael Crichton and Happy Birthday!
And so it goes.