Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Bad Day to Die

Michael Crichton died unexpectedly on Tuesday at the age of 66 of cancer.

Because of the election, it almost escaped my notice but when I was a kid, I loved Michael Crichton. The first Crichton novel I read was “The Terminal Man” and it was one of those deals where you discover a novelist and then read every book you can find. For me, that meant all of the Crichton novels in our school library – “Congo,” “The Andromeda Strain” and “The Great Train Robbery.”

He made me feel smart. His genre has been referred to as “speculative science fiction” and his gift was explaining “sciency” concepts in a simple way and presenting it in the setting of a thriller. Microbes from outer space wiping out the human race? I can see how that might happen. Electrodes planted inside the brain to control violent criminals? Seems reasonable.

When “Sphere” came out I was a junior at college and was disappointed. But when Jurassic Park was released in 1990 I was the very first person to check it out of my branch of the Memphis Public Library.

It was clearly the pinnacle of the genre. The whole dinosaur-DNA-from-mosquitoes-trapped-in-amber was so…plausible. It made such reasonable sense and it was simple.

He never matched Jurassic Park. His later stuff was more right wing political screed than speculative science fiction. His early work always explored the dangers of science run amok but in the end he was just kind of hysterical.

Still, I have fond memories of those days and those books and I’m grateful that he helped forge an interest in science and reading that lives in me still.

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