The closed system known as Michael Crichton -- a system created and sustained by risky scientific theories and the conflicting tension between the desire to make art and the desire to promote facts -- has become unraveled and inert, succumbing to entropy, succumbing to the inevitable chaos that seeps into any ordered system and smears the cold patterns into mocking goop.
He is dead. He died of cancer. He was 66.
Let's be clear: Crichton was a crank, a hack, and a jumped-up throwback sleaze. He got criticized for being a "conservative" who used fiction as a tool for promoting his reactionary politics. His constant, droning rebuttal was that his books sold and so therefore they must be good and correct.
But some people said he was even wrong about his science. That's rough criticism to sling at a science fiction writer, because you hedge your bets when you wrap your controversial lies around thrilling facts. "At least I have taught the animals something," you can say to yourself if they accuse you of writing lifeless characters who have no ear for poetry or ability to inspire depth of feeling.
Still, I must admit, Crichton's books caught on like a venereal disease in my junior high school. He was a real writer, with real craft behind his compulsions, if you judge a writer by their ability to connect with readers and inspire them. I watched socially awkward people who spent whole days programming their graphing calculators (instead of speaking, working, or making eye contact with other human beings) lose themselves in his manic narratives, trading his books around like political prisoners trade newspapers, creating communities and ad-hoc "book clubs" that evolved into friendships.
He was a person you could talk about at lunch if you had to sit at the table where no one WANTED to sit, but still did every day, often sitting in the same exact seat -- the same exact primary-colored circle of hardened plastic with the word "WET CUNT" carved into it.
He was every science jerk's favorite writer. Children filled with dark and angry thoughts found a voice with whom they could identify: the voice of the iconoclastic radical skeptic who does not care "what people think" and who will clean up the mistakes of the idealistic and greedy while teaching a lesson and while getting the girl (a girl who really shouldn't be trusted, either). Crichton got people reading as an addiction; as a way to still have power in a system that made you powerless (public school) by relying on your intellect and by sharpening your cynicism in order to bear the blunt stupidity of those in charge of you.
His books were confiscated by teachers because they were dirty. He was infamous. You had to read him in secret and your heart beat faster when you got to one of his dirty words or dirty scenes.
The guy could write a good story, and he took risks. He may have been only as emotionally and psychologically mature as a junior high school kid, but he was still precocious, and he knew how to maximize his strengths and hide his weaknesses. Most of his plots took place in a day, or a weekend, or a few tense hours: too short a time to see characters change or grow. He knew how to embed slick, scary facts in Jules Verne locales that made you wonder and made you dizzy (remote islands, Japan, the bottom of the sea, a flying machine, the Congo).
He was a novelist of ideas and scenarios. He had a medical degree from Harvard, and so he had the weight of authority. And like all science fiction writers, he was also good at making enemies.
"In his 2006 novel Next (released November 28 of that year), Crichton introduced a character named "Mick Crowley" who is a Yale graduate and a Washington D.C.-based political columnist. "Crowley" was portrayed by Crichton as a child molester with a small penis. The character is a minor one who does not appear elsewhere in the book.
A real person named Michael Crowley is also a Yale graduate, and a senior editor of The New Republic, a Washington D.C.-based political magazine. In March 2006, the real Crowley had written an article strongly critical of Crichton for his stance on global warming in State of Fear."
Mature? No. But Crichton did not get detention or expelled for this because he had done his research. He was smart, you see. Pressed shirt, wire-rim glasses, jaunty smile, twirling a scalpel...
From a 1998 New York Times Article by Dinitia Smith:
"...for a fictional portrait to be actionable, it must be so accurate that a reader of the book would have no problem linking the two,'' said Mr. Friedman. Thus, he continued, libel lawyers have what is known as ''the small penis rule.'' One way authors can protect themselves from libel suits is to say that a character has a small penis, Mr. Friedman said. ''Now no male is going to come forward and say, 'That character with a very small penis, 'That's me!"
Crichton must have been the kind of kid who loved being in the principal's office. It got him out of class. Gave him someone big to argue with. Made him feel big.
I liked Crichton's books when I read them, but I don't intend to revisit his worlds now, because they have been plundered and nullified by film. Still, I'll bet "Jurassic Park" is going to show up in universities in a hundred years when English professors are trying to dissect the 1990's American thriller, if universities still exist. "Jurassic Park" is good: the dinosaurs eat lawyers and scientists and they even eat fat computer programmers and hateful millionaires. The moral center is a stoic dreamer with a cowboy hat.
What if dinosaurs came back tomorrow? Could we compete?
Dinosaurs would probably starve to death on our vegan hot dogs, after they were done eating all of us.
Crichton was also an unintentional sexual educator. In "Rising Sun," Crichton taught all of us junior high school kids that some people like to engage in sex practices that do not involve procreation, which is not what our gym coaches said. According to Crichton, some people like to be tied up and choked in order to achieve orgasm. Some people die this way!
"What's that book about, Tim?"
"Oh, it's about dinosaurs and computers and amusement parks."
"Great! Keep reading, kiddo! Glad you found a writer you like!"
"What's that book about, Tim? Same author, right?"
"Yeah. It's about how the Japanese are going to destroy the American economy, and about how some women can only come if you tie them up, gag them, and choke them to death while they are on drugs."
"You are grounded. Go to your room."
Crichton's best book is the one called "Sphere." It's about an alien spacecraft sunk at the bottom of the sea that grants people's unconscious wishes. It turns out most people have the unconscious desire to die. This means the people who are excavating this spacecraft (and living in a bubble on the ocean floor) are picked off one by one by their own unexplored psychopathologies and egos. I wish he had written more books like that one. The idea still makes me smile.
"We cause our diseases. We are directly responsible for any illness that happens to us." -- Dr. John Michael Crichton, from "Travels"
A diagnosis for the planet itself, perhaps?
You did good work, Dr. Crichton. You chose fiction over saving lives, even though you could do both. I can't argue with that.
When I Stopped Reading Michael Crichton Forever:
I picked up a friend's copy of "The Lost World" when it first came out and leafed through it, curious. I quickly discovered that the main character of "The Lost World" is a character named Ian Malcolm, whose injury and subsequent death are basically the whole plot of "Jurassic Park." He rants; he cracks jokes; he takes morphine; he gives commands; he does math; he chastises; and then he dies a satisfying messianic death.
Because the character was played by a likable Hollywood actor in the movie version, the character did not die in the movie version.
Crichton, under pressure from Stephen Spielberg to write a sequel to the lucrative film, pretended that Spielberg's version was the way it went down so that Spielberg could make the movie he wanted to make (starring the same likable Hollywood actor). CRICHTON WROTE A SEQUEL TO THE MOVIE INSTEAD OF TO HIS OWN BOOK, AS IF THE MOVIE WAS MORE IMPORTANT AND MORE TRUE.
Posted by miracle on Mon, 10 Nov 2008 19:23:22 -0500 -- permanent link