RIP, Michael Crichton

He died last night, of cancer.

I always liked his work, which was eminently readable and always featured interesting ideas, even if he tended to present them in alarmist fashion (because presenting them in alarmist fashion helped to sell books). I met and interviewed him once, during the release of the Jurassic Park movie, and he said to me one of my favorite things to tell people who complain that the movie of their favorite book isn’t as rich or complex, which was that books are 400 pages long while movie scripts are the equivalent of 40 pages long, and you just have to make some choices. That was a very smart and clear answer, and not only have I never forgotten it, I incorporated it into my thinking when watching movie adaptations of books. It’s saved me from being annoyed therein countless times over the years.

So thanks, Michael Chrichton, for that, and also for the fun reads.

46 Comments on “RIP, Michael Crichton”

  1. Timeline, clumsy as it might have been, created for me a lifelong love of quantum physics. Perhaps not the best writer, per se, but one hell of a storyteller.

    Goodnight, Doctor.

  2. How sad.

    By strange coincidence, I was just reminiscing about that movie (JP), not five minutes ago.

  3. “The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet – or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.” – Dr. Grant’s Coda to Jurassic Park

    RIP, Mr. Crichton, and thanks for keeping perspective.

  4. People criticize the depth of his work; but you use a hammer when you need a hammer, and a plane when you need a plane.

    Very few have ever managed the breadth of work Crichton achieved. RIP.

  5. I just found out, too, and I’m bummed that we’ve lost another writer so soon after Hillerman and Terkel. Yeah, some of his books weren’t the greatest, but the man knew how to tell an exciting story. And that, at least among writers and readers, is one hell of an accomplishment and why I’ll remember him fondly.

  6. Huh. Had no idea he was ill.

    Early Crichton was a huge influence on me, starting with The Andromeda Strain and Congo. The books, that is. And Five Patients (non-fic) eventually spawned ER on TV.

    Also have a collection of pre-early Crichton, i.e. stuff he wrote under different names to get paychecks to pay for med school. Even though they were trashy pot-boilers, you could tell from the writing they were Crichton, because there was research and explanations.

    Dr. Phil

  7. I’m floored. Regardless of politics or which books were good or bad, I am certain that his work–specifically Jurassic Park–inspired many people in my generation towards science. If you were in fifth grade when Jurassic Park came out, you wanted to be a geneticist or paleontologist or both. Not all of us got there, but among my friends it really opened our eyes to how cool and weird science could be.

  8. I read a couple of his books, and found them to be highly cinematic – even as I was reading them, I had the sense that they would work better as movies then as books, with the settings very clearly envisioned but the characters and the plots somewhat shallow. But though they weren’t my favorite books, I did have the sense that they could be excellent movies.

    Because of what he became in his last years, I can’t really mourn Crichton as I should, but if nothing else I will treasure the contributions he made to science fiction cinema. With help from Spielberg and John Williams, Jurassic Park was a revelation when it opened.

  9. I loved his work, and was extremely saddened to hear of his passing. I sat up a little straighter in all my science classes because of him.

  10. My favorite read of his was “Eaters of the Dead”, especially the first paperback with the wonderous Ian Miller illustrations. After that, I sought out every version of “Beowulf” and the rest of the “northern thing” that I could lay my hands on.

    I’ll have to re-read “Andromeda Strain”. Especially after that awful remake miniseries.

  11. The man could spin a hell of a yarn, had a great scientific curiosity and never used a dumbed-down term like “electric eye” when “photocell” was more appropos.

    Ya did good, Mike. Cheers.

  12. I don’t think I ever read a novel of his, but I enjoyed the movies Andromeda Strain (the original) and Jurassic Park immensely. These are enduring classics. He will be missed.

  13. I really liked The Terminal Man back when I was about 8 or 9. (I only saw the movie some time in the last couple of years. George Segal? Ha ha!)

    Still liked his stuff I read, even as recently as Prey, even now that I’m old enough to pick apart the science.

  14. I once spent an afternoon with Michael Crichton when I was preparing a digital edition of Jurassic Park (a Voyager Expanded Book, if you remember those). After we spent an hour or so previewing the synthesized dinosaur cries we hoped to include in the ebook, he shook my hand and offered me the following non sequiturian advice: “Don’t do drugs.” Odd.

  15. before ‘JP’ i’d never read about chaos theory. after JP, i couldn’t stop reading about chaos theory.

    on a personal level, i still think his novella ‘eaters of the dead’ deserves more recognition. his whole vision beyond the story and his essay on what lead him to create it are fantastic (and the movie version wasn’t half bad either.)

  16. I loved his books, when he wrote sci-fi it was in a way that was accessible to the general reading public. Rest in Peace.

  17. I didn’t know he was ill, either, but he was a great author, he wrote many a excellent yarn, and I’m sorry to hear that I won’t be reading Jurassic Park III, Sphere II, or something completely new from him. He had a good ride.

  18. I didn’t realize he had cancer, either. Probably happened about the same time I was beating mine. Damn.

    Regardless of how you feel about the rest of his work, he had what every writer works so hard to find; a very personal, distinctive “voice”. He made science, and science-fiction, very easy to read and accessible to many who would have otherwise avoided it. His absence will be felt many, many places.

    My sympathies to his friends and family.

    Thank you for mentioning it.

  19. I didn’t always like Crichton’s books or movies (Sphere I have a particular loathing for), but Crichton gave me my very favorite movie of all time: The Thirteenth Warrior. The critics saw it as nothing but a gore fest and missed the incredible subtle themes of honor and respect for both brawn and brains, for the acceptance of those who’s skills are different from your own but just as valuable. It is one of the few America movies that portray Islam in not just a favorable light, but a noble one. It speaks of fear of the unknown and how knowledge can banish the darkness. It portrays the Vikings as men of honor and duty and courage – and yet smart enough to see that their way wasn’t the only road to honor, duty, and courage.

    I didn’t care much for the book, but the movie which was also in large part Crichton’s creation speaks to me.

    Farewell, Michael, may you find your Valhalla.

  20. He was a writer. He had a following and people took the time to sit and actually read a book. I like what he wrote and while movies are seldom as good as the book, the movies made based on his books were great to watch.
    Wherever he is I bet he isn’t resting.

  21. He’s been my favorite writer ever since I was in the 6th grade. (You are a VERY close second, John.) He will be missed.

  22. As I’ll never have a better chance to tell this story – when my brother worked for Harper-Collins he learned that Michael Crichton had one special request for coming on his author tour to the UK – that he get a 7 foot long bed (as he was 6 foot 9). Harper-Collins had found 2 hotels in London that could do this.

    And I have to say: Westworld.

  23. How many writers exist about whom you can be dead certain that you could pluck a random 10 people off the street and have at least 9 who have seen or read something that writer wrote? That man had a _career_.

    RIP and thanks.

  24. Man, I was like “There’s another Michael Crichton?” Didn’t even cross my mind that the writer of JP, Andromeda strain and creator of ER had passed away. Didn’t seem like an option or even a possibility.

    Had no idea that he was ill. Rest in peace.

  25. I can honestly say that while Madeline L’Engle got me into scifi, Michael Crichton grabbed my attention like none other and kept me there.
    I’m sad that such a creative person has died. There will now be a terrible void in my hard scifi reading. *sigh*
    I have always wanted to be Michael Crichton… he is one of the people I always reference when I’m trying to convince my mother that I can do pretty much anything with my degree (“Look, Mum: Michael Crichton is an MD who writes novels for a living. It doesn’t matter what your degree is in; it matters what you do with it.”)
    Thanks for sharing, John. (she says, trying not to be jealous of the fact that he got to meet MC in person…)

  26. Earlier this week I was moved to scratch an old grudge, namely that Crichton wrote The Lost World, a dinosaur novel that used the same title as the most famous dinosaur novel of the last century, without a nod (visible to me, anyway) to the author, A. Conan Doyle. I’m sure I was also remembering the similarities between Jurassic Park and a similar book, Carnosaur. So I went to Google to investigate the slight and the first link led to an elegant and praiseworthy essay by Crichton on the virtues Doyle’s book.
    My bad. Hats off to Crichton. I’ll miss him.

  27. Bummer. I really liked his work. _Airframe_ was a great novel — and it had a bibliography at the end! I learned more about aircraft accident investigations and airworthiness directives from that novel than from any other source.

    When I was taking a composition course in college, I had an assignment to write about the Swissair 111 crash. I used _Airframe_ as a guide for finding the ADs on the type of plane that crashed, and research other incidents and accidents with that type of plane.

    During the course of my research, I found the FAA incident report for that inspired the story! Nearly all the details of the incident in the novel were exactly like the real one. That was pretty cool.

    His books are readable, fun, and thought-provoking. What more can one ask?

  28. Wildly imaginative and competent execution. Which is really all you need from a sci-fi writer. (The grand works require more, of course.)

    I’ve excused the “unpleasantness” in his later years as potentially being due to trauma from the home invasion. I guess I cut him some slack for that.

  29. John, the logistics of shipping ponies with each of his books would be … well … difficult. I’m sure you understand.

  30. Drew: Not if they were quantum nanotech ponies!

    This is sad news. Crichton was one of the first writers my wife and I bonded over, before we started dating. She gave me Congo. I think I have all but one of the novels he wrote under pseudonyms in medical school. Last year, Hard Case Crime paperbacks quietly re-released two of them — they’re by “John Lange.”

    He was also one of the earlier Macintosh evangelists, along with Douglas Adams.

  31. Wow,

    He was so young and so freaking rich with his books and his movies and ER. shows you can not defeat cancer with wealth. Not amiming to be an a-hole. I think I may have read all his books or close to it. Books far better than the movies from them. Loved ER… saw the vast majorities of the episodes.

    It shocks and saddens me that he is gone. Selfishly I’d love another half dozen or dozen books. Given regular health I would have them.

    I already miss him. I did not know him but I weep for his family and his friends. A freaking surprise.

    I truly loved his work. I buy books years after they come out at used book sales for a buck. Theylast 2 books he wrote I bought one new and the other for like $8 bucks recently used. And I am a patient customer normally. That is how much I liked and anticipated his work.

    I actually feel sad for myself a little because I won’t be able to read anymore of his books. Of the truly rich massively published authors of recent memory I loved his work the most.

    He was brilliant I think as an author, a scientist or at least a science fictionist and as a Screenwriter as ER is an amazing show.

  32. I was thinking about the books that I’ve read of Michael Crichton and realized that I’ve read a number of his books. My favorite book is a non-fiction one called Travels.

  33. MichaelC #13: I loved those eBooks! Those were the first eBooks I bought (as opposed to downloading from Gutenberg) for my Mac laptop! Great dino sound effects!

  34. I gasped out loud when I got the email about his passing.
    Crichton’s was the first science fiction I ever read.

    I also have an action figure named after me because of him!
    See, in Timeline, the assistant to Prof. Edward Johnston was Chris Hughes, which led to sentences like “‘Chris,’ Johnston said. …”
    Got me kinda excited, ’cause I’d never seen a character in fiction with my name, so this was close enough.
    Then, for the movie, they morphed the assistant into the professor’s son!

  35. We can/should celebrate his amazing work, but we also can’t forget that he opted to use his monumental influence in a way that obscured rather than clarified the deadly peril to our world’s biosphere. If he’s no longer able to testify in front of Congressional committees that global warming is a bunch of BS, that’s a good thing for the planet . . .much as we might wish this had been a change of mind instead of a farewell to the body. rip.

  36. I read a few of his novels, and particularly enjoyed “Jurassic Park,” as well as many of the film adaptations of his novels, especially “Andromeda Strain” and “Westworld” when I was a kid. My brother actually had (and LOST) the prop red aluminum key with the ‘radioactive’ symbol that was used in the film.

    I have to say that I found a lot of his work leaning towards the misogynist, and his petty feud with a reviewer leading him to have a character in a subsequent book described as a small-penised homosexual child molester, with the same name as the reviewer, was really beneath him.

  37. One mark of an interesting life is surely that, when you die, people are glad you’re dead because they disagreed with you. For a novelist to accomplish that—that’s one helluva career.

    I suppose Heinlein had a bit of that, too.

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