Michael Crichton, An Alternate Obituary

Michael Crichton, author, died from cancer yesterday, November 4, 2008. Crichton was born in Chicago in 1942. He graduated from Harvard University, and later Harvard Medical School. He wrote his way through school as a peddler of trashy paperback adventures under various pseuodnyms. Eventually, he developed a unique style that played only-slightly-fictionalized cutting-edge technology (and consistently a decade ahead of the mainstream in that regard) against our deepest fears in the name of high-concept fiction, in books which often read like dialog-filled operations manuals.

Crichton was an instant Hollywood darling. For over three decades, everything he wrote was adapted for the big screen, often with tremendous success. He wrote, produced, and directed, movies and television, pioneered visual effects, developed video games, and more. Crichton was a unique voice. His style has never been imitated and his omnimedia success has never been matched.

The Personal Angle

After initially being shut out of Jurassic Park the film (thanks, Mom), I picked up the book at the library, then quickly devoured everything else Crichton had to offer. Jeremy picked up on this soon after, and took it to greater heights, reseaching (and later collecting) every edition of every book, article, and film, he had anything to do with. I do believe, and don't feel I am overstating this in the least, that Jeremy is (or was at one time) the world's greatest authority on all things Michael Crichton.

In December 2006, on a trip to Phoenix, Jeremy and I constructed the Michael Crichton Information Page, a single-page data dump on the author. This became the Michael Crichton Collector's Site and then crichton.org. Beyond the wealth of information the sites contained, they had a unique feature: Crichton would offer a clever quip when you mouse-overed his image on the front page. The following messages were manually changed from time time, but later, through the wonders of PHP, rotated on each page visit.

Jeremy was also active on the alt.books.crichton Usenet newsgroup for some time, and not just under his own identity. He created a character named SalaS to provide some anonimity. Eventually, in an homage to the "Moonkids" personality that trolled the Smashing Pumpkins newsgroup, he created an antagonistic character called Slotnick who never saw the light of day, fortunately.

Jeremy and I spent quite a lot of time cruising greater Phoenix area used bookstores in search of neglected special editions and paperbacks, that could be often had for pennies, but sold online for significantly more (this was in the days when Amazon.com had a text-based front page with a green logo). Exploring the old films, especially the made-for-TV films (all spectacular, for better or worse), introduced us to great actors like Donald Sutherland and Ben Gazarra. We noted Crichton's penchant for gratutitous nudity in all his visual works. The year 1998, in particular, was marked by the heated anticipation for the film adaption of Jeremy's favorite book, Sphere, which had taken eleven years to make it to the big screen. The way the book was adapted and visualized was debated long and hard.

Eventually, we both moved on to other pursuits. Nevertheless, Crichton carries fond memories of shared experiences and the shared language of his writings. He will be missed.


Brock said...

Crichton was a unique voice in literature. I admire him more for his conceptual abilities and less for his literary prowess. Like Steven King, he was much better at providing unique "what if...?" ideas than actual, enduring works of fiction. That may seem like a backhanded complement, but coming from a screenwriter, it is actually some of the highest praise.

I'm like you two...when Jurassic Park first came out, I devoured the book. I read it twice in a matter of a week or two. I moved on to Congo next. I never got around to his other works though because my last fling with Crichton came with Airframe. I thought the concept was brilliant, but I hated the book at the time. It was just waaaaay too technical, even for Crichton. In retrospect, I am thinking about revisiting it, because I might now love it.

I've always had mixed feelings for Crichton. I thought he was brilliant and I also thought he was horrible. He was like a bad relationship that had great sparks. I know people have their own candidates for the best mainstream authors of all time...Grisham, Clancy, King...but my vote goes to Crichton in light of his death. Even King couldn't touch his conceptual abilities. Grisham lacked his charisma. Clancy always had the over 40 market cornered, whereas Crichton reached everyone. He was the best. There hasn't been a writer yet with just the right number of elements at play like him...

Joshua Provost said...

Yeh, I think you just totally nailed Crichton. I'm a big fan, but I feel the same way.