Michael Crichton, R.I.P.

The novelist and public policy provocateur dies at age 66

Pop novelist, television producer, movie director, medical doctor, creator of the long-running hospital drama E.R., and sometime public-policy provocateur Michael Crichton has died of cancer at age 66 in Los Angeles.

Crichton's books have sold more than 150 million copies worldwide. His reputation rests chiefly on a prolific stream of techno-thriller novels exploiting the well-worn formula pioneered by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein: Scientific hubris leads to disaster. For example, in The Andromeda Strain (1969), Army scientists in search of biological-warfare agents endanger humanity by bringing back a space virus that infects a town. In The Terminal Man (1972), the epileptic protagonist goes on a murderous rampage under the influence of computerized mind control. Crichton makes the Frankenstein-reanimation theme even more explicit in Jurassic Park (1990), in which a paleontologist uses biotechnology to bring dinosaurs back to life. In his anti-nanotech tale Prey (2002), a greedy corporation inadvertently releases swarms of flesh-eating nanoparticles.

Crichton's villains were often corporations whose minions killed for profit. Crichton's anti-Japanese mystery/thriller Rising Sun (1992) stoked xenophobic fears of a new Yellow Peril buying up all of America. These nativist anxieties shortly afterwards melted away with the bursting of the Japanese-asset price bubble.

In recent years, Crichton turned his attention more explicitly toward public policy. In particular, he became highly skeptical of archly ideological environmentalism. His 2005 book State of Fear was actually the novelization of a speech he delivered at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club in 2003, arguing that environmentalism is essentially a religion, a belief system based on faith, not fact.  State of Fear not only became a bestseller, but propelled its author into public-policy circles. Crichton was invited to make speeches around the country on science policy; in 2005 he even testified in front of a Senate committee about the politicization of climate-change science.

In his biogenetic tale, Next (2006), Crichton has a wicked corporation engaging, as usual, in all manner of skullduggery. However, he turns his customary Frankenstein formula on its head by ending with a vision of a happy trans-species blended family, including a multi-lingual African grey parrot and four-year old humanzee, as being pretty normal for the 21st century.

Despite his repeated success with scientific scare stories, that upbeat, though decidedly offbeat, ending was actually in keeping with Crichton's own temperament. Despite his worries about human technological hubris, he did confess in an interview back in 1993, "I am optimistic by nature. My prejudice is that we are sufficiently resourceful to see the road ahead, and that we have the capacity to change our behavior. I envision a long lifespan for the species. We've got a few million years ahead of us."

Over the years Crichton and I had a number of friendly interactions as our paths crossed at various conferences. In Next, Crichton even kindly mentioned my book Liberation Biology (2005), praising it as "the clearest and most complete response to religious objections to biotechnology." Nevertheless, I have long been annoyed by the Luddite and Frankensteinian themes of his novels. I was particularly exasperated by Jurassic Park's misguided portrayal of biotechnology as being inherently dangerous.

Eventually, over drinks at a conference at Cold Spring Harbor a couple years ago, I got to tell him how I thought he could have gotten the same narrative bang for his buck if he had instead celebrated the achievement of bringing dinosaurs back to life. In my alternative plot, a kindly old paleontologist, using the miracle of biotechnology, conjures dinosaurs back into existence to delight the world's children. Things go wrong only when a cadre of evil anti-biotechnologists led by Jeremy Rifkin break into the peaceful island zoo to kill the dinosaurs. This revised scenario would provide Crichton with all of the gunfire, gore, chase scenes, and satisfying explosions without the Luddite baggage of the original.

Crichton, slightly miffed at my presumption, asked why I preferred my alternative plot. I answered that I worried that his novels were helping to promote a technophobic attitude among the public that could unnecessarily slow the development of new technologies. He responded that I must be kidding. He doubted that anyone paid any attention to his novels other than to be momentarily entertained by them. I still think he was wrong. After all, two centuries later we're still reading Mary Shelley's thinly plotted potboiler and worrying about mad scientists.

Crichton fans (of which I am definitely one) can look forward to one more novel from HarperCollins. It will close out his published oeuvre but certainly not his presence, either in the world of letters or in public policy debates.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent.

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  • ||

    The Andromeda Strain is one of those awesome 70's sci-fi movies. I took it as anti bumbling military bureaucrats devoted to secrecy in their quest for world domination, but actually pro technology. It too featured an epileptic. Was Crichton or someone close to him afflicted with epilepsy?

  • Elemenope||

    The Andromeda Strain is one of those awesome 70's sci-fi movies.

    It was, IMHO, also his best book.

  • ||

    Not only was "state of fear" about environmentalism as religion...it was about how the cap and traders are nuts and the man made global warming = CO2 is poison canard is a complete scam.

    Did you also suggest that he rewrite "state of fear" to support cap and trade programs on CO2 because of the precaution principle and the inherit free marketedness of cap and trade?

  • ||

    The Andromeda Strain is one of those awesome 70's sci-fi movies.

    One that couldn't be made today. "Nothing but old and unattractive actors? What exactly are you smoking?"

  • Jeff P||

    "They bid me take my place among them in the halls of Valhalla where the brave may live forever."

  • ||

    I've read a few of his books. I rather liked Jurassic Park for its novelty and for bringing in a character based on the late Heinz Pagels, whose physics popularizations I've long enjoyed.

  • ||

    Crichton, slightly miffed at my presumption, asked why I preferred my alternative plot. I answered that I worried that his novels were helping to promote a technophobic attitude among the public that could unnecessarily slow the development of new technologies. He responded that I must be kidding.

    While I'm not a big consumer of Crichton novels, I didn't take away an anti-technology message from them.

    Jurassic Park left me with the impression of the utter futility of trying to control dynamic and complex systems, not that bio-tech was bad; it was just the medium for the larger message. The few books of his that I read, I found them more to be anti-top-down-control books than anything else, which probably only added to my enjoyment.

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    After all, two centuries later we're still reading Mary Shelley's thinly plotted potboiler and worrying about mad scientists.

    Are we? Really?

    Anyway, Mr. Bailey's ideologically preferable plot twist wouldn't have sold nearly as easily in Hollywood. Whatever Crichton argued over drinks, that's probably closer to the true explanation. Indeed, had he written the novel Bailey's way, even assuming it sold well in that version, the film version would probably have taken the "playing God" approach. Safer, less flack from professional scolds, bigger box office.

    The most important word in the phrase "film industry" is industry. Proof? Starship Troopers

  • ||

    Respectfully disagree with JW, whose comments are nevertheless well-thought and presented. The theme of his book, and nicely encapsulated in Spielberg's cinema as roller-coaster talent, certainly seemed a didactic, tired (for me) lecture that we should all let well-enough alone. Otherwise, it certainly is a blast, entertainment second to none.

    Three cheers for Bailey's ingenious alternative plot. What is it, about our pop culture, that clings to stasis and eschews bold out-of-the-box innovation? Longing for the "old days" is not a bad thing, if the "old days" is a metaphor for the friends we may have lost, or for different behaviors that have dwindled? But we replace the "old days" with new days, rife with as much exuberance, love and excitement as a time that exists now as a memory.

    Liberty and its manifestations are infinite, a result of change, adaptation, and tolerance of things once considered heresy, so long as we continue to hold our humanity as sacred.

    While Crichton's books are intriguing catalysts for discussing the human condition, his success also offers business majors and writers a remarkable example of how to prosper in the marketplace! :)

    Cheers.
    J.

  • ||

    Bailey's plot could not have worked because people want to cheer for the underdog, the rag tag group of passionate believers.

  • Chrispy||

    While I'm not a big consumer of Crichton novels, I didn't take away an anti-technology message from them.

    I'm a huge Michael Crichton fan, and I agree completely. All of his novels can be read on multiple levels. Jurassic Park is as much about chaos theory as it is about dinosaurs; Next deals with ill-conceived intellectual property laws as much as it does with genetics, etc.

    Also, I was a bit offended to hear Rising Sun characterized as "anti-Japanese." Sure, Crichton discusses differences between American and Japanese cultures, but as far as I can tell he does it in an honest and accurate way, and he doesn't judge either as superior. I suspect a reader would only conclude that the book is anti-Japanese if he read it from an anti-Japanese mindset to begin with.

    I was surprised but happy to hear another book will be published; I'm looking forward to it.

  • ||

    The Andromeda Strain is one of those awesome 70's sci-fi movies.

    It was, IMHO, also his best book.


    The guy wrote a story that has zero action, is all science-y and dry, and has no romance or any other elements...and it's completely fucking gripping.

    That's impressive.

  • Salvius||

    Jurassic Park left me with the impression of the utter futility of trying to control dynamic and complex systems, not that bio-tech was bad

    I tend to agree. The movie was definitely anti-biotech, but the book's message was not quite so simplistic.

    OK, yeah, the book was still simplistic and a bit Luddite, but not quite as badly as the movie.

  • Kaiser||

    Sad to see a good writer go. I was never a huge fan but I enjoyed the novels I read. I personally never took away the anti-technology sentiments from his novels but I can understand the point of view. Personally I never try to read too much into things, especially fiction novels. It is partially a pet peeve of mine, too often people try to find a deeper meaning to things when nothing is there to be found. It just leads to a lot of speculation that, imho, is unnecessary.

  • John G||

    Whein I read Jurassic Park, I definitely got an anti-technology feeling out of it. I actually hated it because half of it seemed to me to be monologs about how technology is bad.

    As for his assertation that no one reads it for that theme, he is dead wrong. I read it because my 4th year Humanities class at the University of Virginia had it assigned as an alternative to Frankenstein. (I chose it because I had already read Frankenstein). We were reading it as a way to start a discussion of how much thought needed to be put into the use of any technology that the future engineers in the class would create.

  • ||

    Eaters of the Dead was my fave *crickets* (well, I think We the Living was Rand's only readable novel too for that matter)

  • Xeones||

    The movie version of The Lost World was kind of more like Bailey's idea. But yeah, i too thought Jurassic Park was more a cautionary tale about chaos theory than it was anti-technology, and i was 10 when i read it.

  • Xeones||

    Eaters of the Dead -- also pretty good, in my opinion. He wrote that one because a friend bet him he couldn't rewrite Beowulf.

  • Fluffy||

    I find it odd that Crichton didn't think the theme of Jurassic Park was relevant, since he liked that particular theme so much when he used it in Andromeda that he recycled it for Jurassic.

    Andromeda also features a situation where extreme care is taken to plan for every possible situation, but technological safeguards still fail, because it's impossible to plan for and anticipate every eventuality.

    If you go to the well with a theme on more than one occasion, you must think it's important.

    Personally, my favorite Crichton novel is Eaters of the Dead, also known as The 13th Warrior. [Also an underappreciated guilty pleasure film for me.] In addition to being really entertaining, I had fun when I read it speculating on the process by which Crichton decided to write it. He was famous for having a lot of varied interests, and Eaters reads like some guy who just happened to be really interested in paleontology, Arab historians and chroniclers, and the literary tradition of Beowulf sat down one day and said, "Hey, maybe I can write a story combining all those things!" It's an interesting mash-up in the way the first Matrix movie was an interesting mash-up.

  • Fluffy||

    Wow, WLC and Xeones beat me to it while I was typing. Nice to see the love is out there.

  • Warty||

    WLC, strugging to pick up enormous copy of Atlas Shrugged: I cannot read this.

    Me: Grow stronger.

    Oh, and WLC is Antionio Banderas and I'm a viking.

  • ||

    I've read a lot of Crichton's work and he is absolutely not anti-technology. Anyone taking that from his work has clearly never read any of his speeches or non-fiction stuff.

    What he often does do is research a situation quite thoroughly and then decide to take sides. He does this in Airframe, for instance, and does it in many of his novels.

  • Elemenope||

    Personally, my favorite Crichton novel is Eaters of the Dead, also known as The 13th Warrior. [Also an underappreciated guilty pleasure film for me.]

    I loved that film, and I've never before today heard another person say a positive word about it.

  • Elemenope||

    -Mead?

    "I am not permitted to taste the fermentation of wheat, or of grape."

    - [Snickers] It's HONEY!

  • ||

    Personally, my favorite Crichton novel is Eaters of the Dead, also known as The 13th Warrior. [Also an underappreciated guilty pleasure film for me.]

    Directed by John McTiernan, who also directed Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October, and Predator. He's kind of a good action director.

  • ||

    I will also ring in with a guilty pleasure vote for 13th Warrior.

    While I've never been a big fan of Crichton, and absolutely hated the way the press treated him vis a vis actual science fiction... I would never celebrate his death like I would Orson Scott Card's.

  • engineer||

    Airframe ruined Chrichton for me. I loved Anromeda when I was a youth, but I am a professional in aerospace, and Airframe was so full of crap I couldn't enjoy the book.

  • ||

    Airframe was so full of crap I couldn't enjoy the book

    Interesting. In what ways?

    I would never celebrate his death like I would Orson Scott Card's

    This is why you get the big bucks, NutraSweet.

  • Elemenope||

    I would never celebrate his death like I would Orson Scott Card's

    Ah, Mormons. On the other hand, without Mormons in SF we would never have had Battlestar Galactica. So there's that.

  • ||

    Jurassic Park is a book about bad zoo management. I mean, if we can house Tigers and Polar Bears in the middle of large cities, we can easily house dinosaurs, as well.

    The plot of the book also displays a stunning misunderstanding of predator behavior - the T-Rex acted more like a psychopathic human than any actual animal would ever act... it really was just an awful, awful book.

  • QSL||

    I'm going to be the odd-man out here and mention how much I liked 'Timeline'. This is mainly driven by my interest in the whole time-travel genre, though (Best time-travel book is Jack Finney's 'Time & Again', imo). It was a very good read. Not surprised that I fell asleep halfway into the horrid movie I rented, though.

  • engineer||

    It's been along time, but here goes . . .

    The accident that starts the book involves the flight crew indavertantly deploying the slats at cruise altitude and speed. This leads the aircraft to oscillate killing people in the cabin.

    There has been at least one real-world case where slats were accidentaly deployed at cruise, one slat was ripped off the aircraft and the other was badly damaged. The aircraft went into the "death spiral", but the crew managed to save the aircraft.

    Chrichton got pretty much every technical detail regarding aircraft and avionics operation wrong. I say this as someone that spent 7 year writing software for real-time aircraft simulations to test the systems that Chrichton describes in excrutiately wrong detail in the book.

  • Craig||

    Jurassic Park the novel was a lot better than the movie version. I felt genuine fear and dread while reading the book, but the movie was more like a children's film. But with the focus on T-Rex, shouldn't the title have been Cretaceous Park, or at least Mesozoic Park?

    I recently read Next in a single sitting on a flight across the Pacific. Some of it was pretty laughable, but it kept me turning the pages, even over the in-flight movie options.

  • Craig||

    The plot of the book also displays a stunning misunderstanding of predator behavior - the T-Rex acted more like a psychopathic human than any actual animal would ever act...

    But the book focused more on the velociraptors, advocating the theories that they were warm-blooded pack animals that hunted cooperatively, with intelligence levels closer to that of wolves than of lizards.

  • Jurassic Park Apologist||

    I mean, if we can house Tigers and Polar Bears in the middle of large cities, we can easily house dinosaurs, as well.

    We have millennia of experience in handling large mammals in captivity. And that experience basically consists of fucking up and getting eaten over and over until we got it right. Crichton's just saying that we should not expect to be able to deploy completely new technologies without going through that fuckuppery phase and getting eaten a few times. After all, we may house tigers in big cities all the time, but if none of us had ever seen chimps before, and we decided to bring them back to civilization as a curiosity, the odds are that somebody would get fucked up as the chimps demonstrated that they were more capable adversaries than the other zoo animals.

  • ||

    Uh, guys... the unmanageable part of Jurassic Park wasn't the housing of the dinosaurs. That worked fine until it was deliberately sabotaged. The chaotic disruption of the situation is the all female dino population adapting to conditions and finding a way to breed.

    "...where nothing can poss-a-bly go wrong. That's the first thing that's ever gone wrong."

  • ||

    He also wrote the novel that became a pretty good (but long forgotten) film about drug trafficking: Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues.

    Check it out here.






  • Ravac||

    Add me to the list of Eaters fans.

    I met Crichton in San Fran during the book tour for Airframe. I asked him about Eaters and was happy to learn that they had just started filming the movie in Vancouver.

    Definitely a guilty-pleasure movie.

  • Jackson Kuhl||

    Anyone jonesing for fresh Crichton material may be interested to know he pseudonymously wrote thrillers to put himself through medical school.

    Grave Descend is a fun read even though the plot doesn't make a lick of sense once you're done with it. Zero Cool is on my shelf but haven't gotten to it yet.

  • Elemenope||

    Sooooooo.........

    Apparently Eaters of the Dead is *everyone's* sleeper favorite Crichton novel-to-film that they are normally too embarrassed to mention in polite company.

    Hm.

  • Mad Max||

    Bailey: "[Crichton's] reputation rests chiefly on a prolific stream of techno-thriller novels exploiting the well-worn formula pioneered by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein: Scientific hubris leads to disaster."

    There's an important difference between the Mary Shelley formula and the formula of authors like Crichton.

    In Frankenstein, the scientist (and title character) is a lone wolf who spurns the scientific mainstream of his time, even delving into old authors spurned by his more up-to-date teachers. Then Dr. F gets himself a castle where he works without colleagues, or input from the broader scientific community. This is the prototype of the mad-scientist genre, where the scientist is mad at his colleagues because "they all laughed at me" or "they all said I was crazy" (which, it turns out, is true).

    The modern science-gone-wrong novel, typified by much of Crichton's work, is much more realistic. Instead of mad scientists, there are amoral scientists who work, not on their own, but with fellow-scientists who all belong to a larger enterprise - the military, or even a park run by an eccentric gazillionaire. The gazillionaire (or the military) may be crazy, but the scientists are not out of the ordinary except in their great talent and in their choice of employer. And the scientists themselves are motivated by standard scientific curiousity and an appreciation of a decent paycheck.

    As to the fact that the things Crichton's scientists invent tend to go out of control - that has been known to happen in real life, too. Ever heard of LSD? Or deadly, sophisticated weapons getting into the "wrong hands" - people who use the weapons to (shockingly!) kill lots of people? Tom Lehrer even had a mocking song about the rocket scientist von Braun, who (reflecting a widespread scientific attitude) worked for whatever government paid him, including [Godwin edit]. "There are widows and orphans in old London town/Who owe their large pensions to Werner von Braun."

    Of course, another reason things tend to go wrong in science novels is that, if they didn't, where's the drama? Yes, you could have eco-terrorist saboteurs invading the Edenic dino paradise, but Tom Clancy could do that stuff, too.

  • Fluffy||

    Uh, guys... the unmanageable part of Jurassic Park wasn't the housing of the dinosaurs. That worked fine until it was deliberately sabotaged.

    But doesn't that count?

    To maintain control of the park, they had deployed a wide variety of "technological advantages" they had over the dinosaurs - compter controlled security, electrified fences, the lysine deficiency, selecting for female dinosaurs only. But each of those systems was vulnerable to really prosaic things - a disgruntled employee, a power failure, chicken and beans for dinner, frog DNA [OK that last one isn't so prosaic].

  • Ravac||

    I'm also pretty fond of Sphere although the movie sucked ass.

  • TallDave||

    Arctic sea ice is back to average levels, global temps are where they were 30 years ago, and this year's hurricane season was one of the weakest ever recorded.

    He might be vindicated.

    Didn't especially like his later books, though. Too formulaic and with too-convenient plot devices (the army guys sent back to medieval Europe just happen to drop their grenades? pfshaw).

  • A.G. Pym||

    I love "Andromeda Strain," like "The Terminal Man" (novel, not the POS film made from it), and hugely enjoy "Eaters" as well as "The Great Train Robbery," in both book and film incarnations. Gotta love a book that introduces many americans to the word "quim!"

  • Neu Mejican||

    My 2 cents.

    Andromeda and Eaters of the dead were the only novels of his that I read that didn't completely suck. They were good enough that it took quite a few of the suck novels to turn me off to attempting the latest of his novels.

    I am surprised there hasn't been more discussion here of his global warming stance, given that he legitimized a lot of the beliefs of the AGW-is-a-myth crowd by giving them a celebrity face.

    I do appreciate that he did this while saying he supported a carbon tax and other efforts advocated by the AGW is a problem crowd.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Arctic sea ice is back to average levels, global temps are where they were 30 years ago, and this year's hurricane season was one of the weakest ever recorded.

    He might be vindicated.


    Do tell.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Note: hurricane season is used as counter evidence?

    What does a particular hurricane season have to do with the topic?

    Let alone misinformation about Arctic sea ice?

  • Neu Mejican||

    An less positive obit:

    http://climateprogress.org/2008/11/05/michael-crichton-worlds-most-famous-global-warming-denier-dies/

  • DannyK||

    In later years he refused to say anything about global warming. I don't know if he'd had enough of being toasted by the likes of James Inhofe or if he regretted his position.

  • TallDave||

    Neu,

    Note: hurricane season is used as counter evidence?

    It's evidence we aren't having worse hurricane seasons, as some alarmists have claimed we would.

    As for Arctic sea ice, area is back to seasonal avg, extent is back to within 1 std dev -- both way up from last year.

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2008/10/31/arctic-sea-ice-continues-rebound/

  • TallDave||

    He was probably tired of being treated like a heretic for daring suggest the Emperor wore no clothes.

    http://www.dailyexpress.co.uk/posts/view/69623

  • ||

    To maintain control of the park, they had deployed a wide variety of "technological advantages" they had over the dinosaurs - compter controlled security, electrified fences, the lysine deficiency, selecting for female dinosaurs only. But each of those systems was vulnerable to really prosaic things - a disgruntled employee, a power failure, chicken and beans for dinner, frog DNA [OK that last one isn't so prosaic].

    Maybe, Fluffy. But comparison was being made to large mammals in zoos and containment technology. Newman shutting off all the gates doesn't mean that the physical containment portion of their scheme was inherently flawed.

    I can see an argument, though, for the breeding inhibition to be part of a holistic control system. And that portion failed spectacularly.

  • ||

    Neu Mejican,

    If hurricanes aren't a good bellwether for climate change, maybe Gore shouldn't have based the An Inconvenient Truth poster campaign around one.

    And maybe so many article shouldn't have been written linking Katrina and Global Climate Change.

  • ||

    Add another to the surprisingly long list of people who loved 13th Warrior/Eaters of the Dead. Neither are great, but both are a lot of fun.

  • Neu Mejican||

    Sugarfree,

    I agree.

  • Neu Mejican||

    TallDave,

    both way up from last year.

    Up from the year with the record low.

    Are you really using year to year numbers to talk about climate trends?

    Really?

  • Neu Mejican||

    An example of how to talk about sea ice trends.

    http://pdfserve.informaworld.com/855448_729911735_795049402.pdf

    http://epic.awi.de/Publications/Dor2007d.pdf

    In principle, the recurrence of such anomalous conditions as in 2007 is possible and would reinforce the ice loss, maybe even induce abrupt reductions as seen in climate model simulations by Holland et al. (2006) [49]. However, the persistence of all these anomalies that appeared in 2007 is rather unlikely, since they are at least partly not a result of a continuous climate change of anthropogenic origin.

  • Neu Mejican||

    TallDave,

    It's evidence we aren't having worse hurricane seasons, as some alarmists have claimed we would.

    It's not, since even the strawman claim you are attacking isn't about any particular hurricane season.

  • LarryA||

    Newman shutting off all the gates doesn't mean that the physical containment portion of their scheme was inherently flawed.

    Actually, it was, at least in the book. They regularly counted the critters. But they assumed that there was no breeding, so they instructed the computers to count a particular species until it reached what they presumed was the population. (The number they had created.) The computer then reported that all the critters were there, and stopped counting. Therefore the computer count failed to warn them that there were extra dinosaurs until after the containment was breeched.

    [geek alert]

    13th Warrior was good to watch once, and one of the better movies by Crichton. I'll miss his work.

  • ||

    After all, two centuries later we're still reading Mary Shelley's thinly plotted potboiler and worrying about mad scientists.

    Are we? Really?


    I read it for the first time a couple of years ago and re-discovered why I'd found it so hard to get through when I'd tried a couple of decades ago: The book sucks. I suspect that almost no one (besides masochists like me, that is) reads it unless it's assigned to them in class. All the good stuff we associate with Frankenstein (the castle, the lightning, "It's alive; it's alive!") come from the movie.

    Now, "Dracula," on the other hand, is a book that bears re-reading. Sure, it's a potboiler, but at least it's entertaining.

  • ||

    If you liked Dracula, try Fred Saberhagen's The Dracula Tape. Same story, told from Dracula's perspective. Hint: He's the not-that-bad guy.

  • the innominate one||

    For example, in The Andromeda Strain (1969), Army scientists in search of biological-warfare agents endanger humanity by bringing back a space virus that infects a town.

    Really? I've seen the movie, and can't remember if I've read the book, but I didn't remember that the Andromeda strain was the result of the search for a bioweapon. No mention of this on Wikipedia in the plot summary, either.

    As to the fact that the things Crichton's scientists invent tend to go out of control - that has been known to happen in real life, too. Ever heard of LSD? Or deadly, sophisticated weapons getting into the "wrong hands" - people who use the weapons to (shockingly!) kill lots of people? Tom Lehrer even had a mocking song about the rocket scientist von Braun, who (reflecting a widespread scientific attitude) worked for whatever government paid him, including [Godwin edit]. "There are widows and orphans in old London town/Who owe their large pensions to Werner von Braun."

    How did LSD "go out of control" and kill lots of people? Also, von Braun's rockets were intended to kill Brits, they didn't go out of control. He was a German, working for Germany. Your comment doesn't make much sense in the context of this discussion.

    He was probably tired of being treated like a heretic for daring suggest the Emperor wore no clothes.

    Why should anyone pay attention to the AGW opinion of a sci-fi writer with an MD? He's got a right to an opinion, but it doesn't mean anything, he's unqualified to be taken seriously on the subject.

  • Neu Mejican||

    the innominate one,

    From Wiki-

    The scientists believe the satellite, which was actually designed to capture upper-atmosphere microorganisms for bio-weapon exploitation, returned with a deadly microorganism that kills by disseminated intravascular coagulation.

  • Douglas Gray||

    Mr. Bailey, Jurrasic Park wouldn't have been such a totally fun an awesome movie if it weren't full of danger. Safe biotech is fine for the real world, but in fiction, it has to be full of danger and corporate villians, otherwise it's no fun.

  • the innominate one||

    Neu Mejican- you just put that in the wiki article, didn't you?

  • Neu Mejican||

    the innominate one,

    Nope.
    I was with you until I checked the wiki...I remembered the Andromeda as an accidental hitchhiker on a spy satellite.

    I wouldn't put it past Bailey, however.

    ;^)

  • ||

    A real loss - my favorite author. I've liked or loved nearly all of his works. Only exception for me was Next, damn near unreadable and very disappointing.

    Glad to hear there's one more book.

  • Robert Goodman||

    What kind of cancer, and why hadn't we heard about it?

    I phoned into David Brudnoy's show to talk to Crichton about The Great Train Robbery. I'd taken the disclaimer up front as pro forma and thought the book really had been written based on trial records under he explained otherwise. Really great job of fooling me such that I didn't even believe the disclaimer, huh? Yeah, I'll miss him; I miss Brudnoy too.

  • Nasikabatrachus||

    How did LSD "go out of control" and kill lots of people?

    Um... Reefer Madness?

    Oh, wait, no that was responsible for the Great Pot War of the 1960s, nevermind.

  • Robert Goodman||

    "Until", not "under".

  • ||

    Thanks, Ron--Mike was a delightful guy , as large in spirit as stature . I was merely bemused when he crafted some planks from a WSJ op-Ed of mine

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/246860/nkwrmelt

    into his Cal Tech / Commonwealth Club speech ventilating the political exaggeration of warming

    http://www.michaelcrichton.net/speech-alienscauseglobalwarming.html
    but regret Mike was not more critical, and less credulous in expanding its thesis into State of Fear.

    Far better and , being politically unburdened , funnier, was his send up of plot driven science in Congo, about as respectful of geophysics as a Doctorow novel is of history.

  • economist||

    "We the Living is Rand's only readable novel"
    Please tell me you're joking. Please.

    I always wrote it off as proof that decent writers can make bad mistakes in their early works. I personally think she should have pulled a Nathaniel Hawthorne on that one. I remember the fact I used for that reference from all the way back in 10th grade.

  • economist||

    "I would never celebrate his death like I would Orson Scott Card's"
    You didn't like Ender's Game? Really? I understand that the rest kind of sucks, but give credit where it is due.

  • Mad Max||

    I have not idea how many (or how few, or any) people LSD killed. I said it went out of control. Or do you think it was invented for the *purpose* of being a recreational drug?

    I was attempting to contrast the scientist in Frankenstein with the scientists of Crichton's novels. These scientists are more realistic because their motives and incentives are more like those of real scientists compared to Frankenstein. If their inventions, when used as intended, cause death and destruction, isn't that *worse* than Crichton's scenarios, not better?

  • robc||

    And that experience basically consists of fucking up and getting eaten over and over

    Very few of us have been eaten more than once.

  • ||

    I'm going to join the ranks of commenters here who greatly enjoyed "Eaters of the Dead." It's my favorite Crichton book.

    I also took the anti-technology vibe away from Jurassic Park. Halfway through, you can predict the fates of the remaining characters by a simple rule: Did they help create the park? If the answer is "Yes", they're going to die. I also spent the last half of the book praying that the T.Rex would finally eat the two kids, who serve no function other than to be insanely annoying. I was very disappointed that the movie carried over some of the stupider plot points from the book. Since when does re-booting a mainframe require a complete power cycle for an entire facility? And even if it did, why wouldn't someone say, "Hmmm...that's going to open all the raptor pens. Muldoon - go take your big f***ing gun, kill all the raptors, and come back and report when you're finished. Then we'll cycle the power." Crichton also seems to have confused chaos theory with Murphy's law.

  • ||

    Very few of us have been eaten more than once.

    Oh, but we lucky few.

  • ||

    economist,

    When The Last Starfighter is a better version of the the same plot as your most successful novel, it's time to stop writing.

    "Only your mad video game skillz can save the earth from The [Homophobic Slur]s!"

  • ||

    Personally, my favorite Crichton novel is Eaters of the Dead, also known as The 13th Warrior.

    I concur, but from my recollection, part of his motivation for writing the book was an attempt to pierce the myth of the Nordics being a group of savage plundering paganistic sub-humans who were inevitably brought into the arms of civilization by Roman based cultures and their offspring (namely the English). It's been a while, but I do remember that being the theme of his numerous footnotes. The Wall Street Journal's reprint of his 2003 Caltech lecture is a better tribute and by far, a better read. Sure that Bailey will agree.

  • economist||

    They weren't "mad video game skills". It was supposed to be a thorough grasp on strategy. While some themes in the book bothered me, I thought it was an interesting story overall.

  • ||

    And let's not forget his willingness to counter Second Hand Smoke hysteria either.
    The good doctor on EPA 1993.

  • ||

    Neu Mejican
    I remembered the Andromeda as an accidental hitchhiker on a spy satellite.


    The satallite was named 'Scoop' (or something). It was designed to collect debris, no cameras, nothing 'accidental' about it.
    All of you of course remember the scene where while discussing the consequences of blowing the bomb @ Wildfire, some bio warfare maps came up?

    Yup another fan here...

  • ||

    economist,

    Just being mean. It's really the crypto-Mormonism and none-to-subtle gay-hate running through the rest of his work that irritates me.

    And Card's career is directly responsible for the explosion of Mormon genre writing and therefore this is all his fault.

  • ||

    The Andromeda Strain is one of those awesome 70's sci-fi movies.

    It was, IMHO, also his best book.


    If one considers that pretty much all his books are social misfit scientists with clashing personalities trapped in an isolated environment trying to fend off a potential techno-Apocalypse, it was his only book.


    But still a good one.

    (Though the Japophobia of the later Rising Sun was Michelle Malkin-level semi-demented.)

  • JWB||

    I think the biggest point to remember is that Crichton mainly wrote fiction novels. Chiefly, to entertain. I, for one, was entertained by many of his novels. I can honestly say that I never stopped in the middle of reading one of his novels to contemplate the validity of the science or to weigh its impact on the public perception on a particular subject.

    It is highly unlikely that Crichton wrote his books with the main purpose of developing bullet-proof scientific concepts or to promote an anti-technological mindset.

    While Crichton may have indeed included themes in many of his novels, I'm pretty confident in assuming that he wrote foremost to entertain.

    Frankenstein? Come on. Seriously? Anyone who would dedicate such time to tearing apart the science of a work of fiction (that's a point I want everyone to remember - we're talking about fiction here) or would suggest that Crichton's books promote a technophobic attitude obviously has far too much time on their hands.

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