I was saddened by the news that Michael Crichton died this week, after “a courageous and private battle with cancer.” Those of us who enjoyed his writing will miss his contributions to the genres of techno thriller and science fiction. It seems appropriate to celebrate his life as an author by looking back at some of my favorite experiences of reading his work.
But first, some general observations:
- His books have always been much better than the movies based on them. The all time worst film adaptation was Timeline.
- My favorite aspect of his writing is the way he incorporates sometimes complex technology into adventurous and thrilling plots, in a way that makes sense and is interesting to the average reader.
- My least favorite characteristic of his writing is that there seems to often be a know-it-all main character who must interject his grand knowledge of various subjects into the conversation, which becomes very annoying and distracting after awhile. (The worst offender of this technique was Rising Sun.) But usually I was able to tolerate this since the stories were always so fascinating.
- Congo and Sphere – These were the first two Crichton novels that I read, and I don’t so much remember the particulars of them as I do my circumstances while I was reading them. My introduction to the world of Michael Crichton took place while I was spending a summer in Rome, as part of a semester overseas program offered by my university. I remember hearing mopeds from the street and the clinking of dishes from the hotel kitchen through the open window of my room as I read about the underwater adventures of scientists exploring a spacecraft, and about the jungle expedition of some Americans trying to locate diamonds while surviving in the midst a group of killer gorillas. Reading these books was escapism in the middle of my European escapades.
- Timeline – This is my favorite Crichton novel. It is a satisfying blend of adventure, science fiction, medieval history, and archaeology. I literally couldn’t put the book down. I loved main character Andre Marek, and I found the idea of modern day people learning to survive in a medieval world very fascinating.
- The Great Train Robbery – I believe this is the only audio book that I have ever listened to from start to finish. My husband and I decided we needed more than our familiar music collection for entertainment when we drove from Birmingham, AL to the Poconos in 2003 (I think it was a 14 hour trip), so we checked out The Great Train Robbery on CD from our local public library. We had a great time listening to this fascinating historical novel, which relates the true story of a group of thieves in Victorian London who, led by mastermind Edward Pierce, create and execute an elaborate plan to rob a huge amount of gold from a moving train. Crichton did a fantastic job of recreating the cultural and social atmosphere of Victorian England, gave plenty of historical context, and turned a true crime into a thrilling caper. I will always remember how we were transported into the world of the novel while we were driving through the cities of eastern Tennessee, the rolling hills of West Virginia, the drizzly rain of Virginia, etc.
- Travels – Lesser known than most of his novels, this was Crichton’s travel memoir, and I count it among my favorite of his works. I should really read more travel memoirs, because I always enjoy the armchair tourist aspect of the experience. There was a bit of that element that made me enjoy Travels, but this book is about more than just Crichton’s physical travels – it’s also about his inner “travels,” as he ponders everything from medical school to spoon bending. The main reason I enjoyed it is because it gives insight into his inspiration for many of his novels. He traveled to some amazing places and had some unique experiences, from hiking through jungles to climbing mountains to exploring Mayan pyramids.
- State of Fear – Published in 2004, this was the last Crichton novel that I read, and I enjoyed it. Its predecessor, Prey, was hard to get into, and was shorter than most of his novels, but State of Fear combined issues of global warming and eco-terrorism into an entertaining and interesting story. Some readers resented his blatant challenges to the assumed threat of global warming, but I thought he presented relevant data to support his claims (albeit while mostly ignoring valid evidence that others use to support the validity of global warming’s dangers). But I wasn’t too concerned with the facts. I read his novels for entertainment, not to confirm or develop my positions on social and political issues, and I thought this novel did its job of entertaining.
- Other Crichton Books I’ve Read: A Case of Need, The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, Binary, Five Patients, Airframe (didn’t finish), Rising Sun, Prey
- Crichton Books I Haven’t Read But May Eventually: Jurassic Park (the movie kind of ruined it for me, but I’m sure the book would be much better), The Lost World, Airframe (maybe I will finally finish it), Next, and his untitled final novel that will be published next year.
Michael Crichton was certainly a prolific writer, from the novels he wrote to pay his way through medical school, to the more well-known stories that made their way to the movie theater over the past decade. He will be missed in the world of books, but with his large collection of works he has left behind an impressive legacy.
What are your favorite Michael Crichton books? Which ones on my list of unread should I make sure to read?