I’m not sure if he belongs, because you’ve probably read him…but not lately. With the latest installment of Jurassic Park looming on the horizon of this summer’s blockbuster movie line-up, it might be time to go back and re-read the books that spawned the movies. Crichton was first and foremost a science fiction author, with an emphasis on the science. He loved to delve into the scientific minutiae of the occasionally obscure but no less fascinating technical details of the technology and ideas his books explored. This devotion to science could overshadow some of the mechanics of his writing, particularly in his later works, but he’s still nonetheless one of the most influential writers of the 1990’s, and had more success in adapting his prose work into movies than any writer of the era.
On a more personal note, Crichton also provided the base materials for my own literary renaissance, and was the first author to inspire me to want to read, and eventually, write. I was obsessed with dinosaurs when I was a kid, and a bit advanced in terms of schooling for my age. My mom decided I could handle Jurassic Park, as I was borderline obsessed with the movie, and got it from the library for me over the summer. I was captivated, even if some of the scientific nuances were well beyond the comprehension of my seven-year-old brain, I loved it. Mostly because of the dinosaurs. But the writing was pretty good too. I re-read Jurassic Park every year, and I always get several waves of nostalgia throughout the prose as I remember particular moments that still resonate twenty years later: The first descriptions of the immensity of the Brachiasaurs and the raw power of the T-rex (always my favorite), the spine-chilling suspense of finding the Raptors escaped from their enclosure, the some-what surreal early encounter with a sick triceratops. I loved every moment, and still do.
Crichton didn’t just write about Dinosaurs. He has other technological thrillers like Sphere and The Andromeda Strain as well as less genre-specific fiction like Rising Sun and The Great Train Robbery. Outside of his books, Crichton also had a passion to direct and produce movies and TV shows. He directed, among others, the Western Sci-Fi Westworld, which appropriately was the first movie to incorporate 2-D CGI (and it’s a great Yul Brenner movie if you’re into that). Even more impressive, Crichton created and was the executive producer on ER, teaming with Jurassic Park buddy Steven Spielberg. In 1994, Crichton became the first and only person to have a #1 movie (Jurassic Park), a #1TV Show (ER), and a #1 Book (Disclosure) in the same year.
1) The Science – If you’re any kind of science geek, or you just think science is kind of cool (and who doesn’t?) you’ll want to read Michael Cricthon. He has an ability to explain complex technology and theory that makes it not only understandable to a layman, but also integrates it into an entertaining story. His early works in particular seamlessly incorporate heavy science, suspense, and narrative to create entertaining prose that pulls you in with the depth of detail in the science and the story. He clearly does exhaustive research, which makes the science fiction feel to some of his works a lot more tangible and realistic. Even his non-sci fi novels have elements of research in them, and an author that does his homework can craft a much more authentic story for the reader.
2) Back to Basics – If you’re looking for over-complicated plots or twisty-turny story arcs, you won’t find them here. Crichton’s storylines tend to be a bit more straightforward, which is what enables him to incorporate the heavy science and research aspects so well. A book can only handle so much detail until it gets bogged down, and Crichton understood this. He didn’t focus as much on where the characters were going in the plot, and instead focused on what they were doing and how they did it, and this is where the science comes in. Character development isn’t a big focus, but he still manages to make them feel very real and believable through their dialogue and actions. He also has a gift for giving his characters quirks and faults that make them more genuine.
3) Suspense – Crichton’s gift for suspenseful moments in his works makes the action more intense, and gives many of his techno-thrillers an almost horror-type appeal. Whether its dinosaurs and aliens stalking and terrorizing humans, or the more mundane yakuza assassins and virulent diseases, you can’t help but turn the pages in anticipation. I’d put his gift for suspense against Stephen King’s any day, and the two would be comparable.
As his writing career progressed, and he had more and more books made into movies, his novels began to feel more like scripts or screenplays, which is a bit unfortunate. They were still fun to read, but works like Prey, Timeline, Next, even Pirate Latitudes lacked some of the depth in his previous works, and even skirted the science a bit, making them essentially dialogue and suspense elements and not much else. I’d recommend earlier novels like Sphere, Jurassic Park, Disclosure, The Great Train Robbery, and Rising Sun if you’re trying Michael Crichton for the first time.
He inspired me, and Jurassic Park was the first book that really resonated and made me want to read and write. So I ask you, if you slogged through my own limited prose to this point:
What Book and/or Author first inspired you to read and/or write?