Eugoogly: Michael Crichton
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on November 6, 2008
“I call it, ‘Billy and the Colonsaurus’…”
Guys like Michael Crichton, you just sort of assume that they’re never actually going to die. I guess it’s largely because despite the fact that I’ve read a good deal of the guy’s books, I had no idea who he was or what he looked like–he could’ve been a 475 pound black dude with dreads, or a petite waif of a girl writing under a male pen name for all I knew. But I think it also has to do with the fact that the guy seems like more of an institution than an individual–a part of mainstream culture that produced vaguely suspenseful, vaguely science-themed books like a factory every couple years or so. But, sure enough, it appears that Crichton died yesterday of cancer, at the age of 66. Guess we’ll never get that Jurassic Park III novelization after all.
Back in middle school, only two authors of note existed in my world–John Grisham and Michael Crichton. I’m not really sure why, since the only thing I cared about less than the law in middle school was science, but I guess their books always showed up in my middle school libraries, and it was usually a safer bet to read junk like Airframe or The Partner than whatever literary “classics” surrounded them. I think I liked most of Crichton’s books, but I don’t think I even remotely understood them–I remember getting to the numerous plot twists in a book like Rising Sun and thinking to myself “Oh, so that’s why [x] is [y]! Wait a minute, [x] was supposed to be [y]? Let me read that last chapter again.” Not only could I not tell you what the hell Congo is supposed to be about (smart monkeys?), I don’t think I could have told you even after I finished for reading it the second time. Still, something had to get read during those study hall periods and empty Language Arts classes, and at least these usually had a chase scene or two.
Two of his books I will go to bat for, albeit for very different reasons. Unlike the majority of kids my age, I was too afraid to watch Jurassic Park the movie, so the book was my first real experience with the phenomenon. Ironically, I think the book ended up being much, much scarier. It was a dark, intricate, and unbearably suspenseful read, especially because a healthy number of the main characters actually ended up dying, as opposed to the movie where it’s pretty much just Samuel L, Newman, and the “Clevah girl” dude that bite it while everyone else escapes by helicopter at the end. Like all of his books, I skimmed over a lot of the sci-talk gobbledygook, but the chase: bio ratio was far closer to my specifications than in most of his other books, and I still feel like I could re-read it today and at least enjoy it, if not find it as mind-blowing as I did when I was 13.
And then there was Disclosure, whose movie I also had not seen since it hadn’t been on TV or anything and I probably couldn’t have gotten my parents’ approval for renting. The book itself was pretty good, some interesting gender discrimination stuff, a couple clever plot twists, and the tech-talk was more about cool new computer technology and shit than chaos theory or molecular biology or whatever such shit cluttered most of his work. But anyone that age who read Disclosure will certainly remember it more for the initial sex scene, which at that point in my life was undoubtedly the hottest thing I had ever read, at least that I could find in my English class library. Even though I hadn’t seen the movie, I at least knew to picture Demi Moore as the Meredith character in the book, and that was an aggressive, explicit and surprisingly detailed sex scene. I think I could’ve probably re-written that part of the book from memory when I was in 8th grade.
I stopped reading Crichton in high school, and soon I stopped reading fiction for my own enjoyment more or less altogether. Still, go back to my room in my parents’ house, and there remains a shelf with a stack each of Grisham and Crichton. Now I’ll probably never be able to bring myself to disrupt it–a shrine to the man who, at the very least, gave me a handful of the best suspenseful and sexual thrills of my borderline-adolescence.
R.I.P. Michael Crichton, 1942-2008
(“I didn’t know he was Terminal” is the best the Celebrity Death Pun & Conundrum Society has come up with for this one thusfar)