Monday, June 21, 2010

In Memory of Michael Crichton

As an author, Michael Crichton is an interesting case study. He is often associated with science fiction, yet many of his works are in other areas such as medicine, politics, history, etc. It's probably better to characterize much of his work as modern thrillers. He'll take some topic of interest, research it, and then create a perilous yet often plausible "what-if" scenario to write about. His stories will often incorporate interesting and thoughtful expositions of the topic in question, however, he never goes too deep into it. The information is just enough to convince the reader that the postulated scenario is believable, and then he proceeds to craft a drama or thriller around it. His narrative style is quite visual, especially the later works, in a way that often reminds me of a movie script, and I've often wondered if he does this intentionally in order to promote adaptation to film. If so, it has worked as most of his novels have made it to the screen and he eventually was able to get involved in the production of both film and TV adaptations.

If someone were to ask me my opinion as to Crichton's best literary work, I would name an early novel that was, surprisingly, not science related. The Great Train Robbery (not to be confused with the classic 1903 silent film of the same name) is about how a small group of criminals accomplished an impossible train heist in Victorian England. I myself was surprised when I first ran across this work of his and I think any Crichton fan should read it. A movie was made from the book in 1979 that accurately portrayed the storyline, but what makes the book so enjoyable is all the characteristic commentary that he interjects regarding what life was like in London in the 19th century. Having done extensive research, the book is not only entertaining but colorfully enriching.

Michael Crichton passed away a few years ago in November 2008. I thought it would be nice to dedicate an entry here to record the books of his that I've read with a short description of the most poignant aspect of each one. These represent only the novels, as they contain so much more than what eventually gets to the theaters, but the links take you to the films.

(It's a short list for now...)

The Great Train Robbery - See decription above.

The Andromeda Strain - See link.

Jurassic Park - Although the main concept was cloning of ancient DNA, what many do not know is that the book weaves in a strong connection with chaos theory. This is only hinted at in the film via the mathemetician Ian Malcolm. There's even a fractal construction at the start of each chapter that is thrown in to symbolize the progression of complexity in the story.

Sphere - This is an odd little story that involves mysterious mental capacities encountered in a deep sea lab while studying a mysterious sunken spacecraft. Not one of his best works, I was surprised to see it later turned into a film with some big name stars in it. I think he was channeling Forbidden Planet a bit, making a connection between the deep sea and the depths of the human subconscious.

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