It’s been almost a year and half since Michael Crichton died, a year since the brain that spawned Jurassic Park, Sphere, Congo, Andromeda Strain, and ER stopped being capable of imagining. I’ve been thinking of him lately (I’ll tell you exactly why in a little while, I promise) and his style of writing. The more I think, the more I admire what he did. And the more I want to incorporate the same talents into my own writing.
I first discovered Michael Crichton when I was in third grade. I had enjoyed Jurassic Park so much that I asked my mom, who has worked at the Library of Congress all of my life, if she could find me the book to go along with it. To my disappointment, she brought home a watered down kids version. I was disgusted. I read it, but disgusted nonetheless. She told me that the real thing was over 300 pages, and I told her that’s what I wanted. She obliged.
I still have my copy with ‘Justin Key – 3rd gade’ scribbled on the inside flap (funny how my handwriting is pretty much exactly the same). It is still my all-time favorite novel. I remember telling my mom that I wanted to write Steven Spielberg and ask how he could mess up such a masterpiece. That’s really how I felt. It was like instead of discovering Santa Claus is fake, you discover that just the Santa Claus stuck in your chimney is fake and the real one gives twice as many toys.
I read a lot of Michael Cricton books from that point on and what always did it for me was the learning aspect. Sure, we learn from reading fiction all the time. New vocabulary, facts about life, the world, love, historic figures, places we thought were only dreams. But the level of learning was different with Crichton. Every book was a college-level course in…well, in whatever Crichton wanted to teach you. He didn’t just aim to entertain and, at times, scare the shit out of you, but make you understand why you’re scared.
Since first reading Jurassic Park, it has always been my dream to become an expert in some kind of field and use my weave knowledge and experience in to my writing. It makes it just that much more fun for the reader when he or she feels like your bizarre and off the wall plotlines aren’t really that far-fetched after all because you’ve explained it so well. Sure, bringing dinosaurs back to life is a pretty ridiculous idea, but read Jurassic Park and you will probably forget why.
And sometimes I think it isn’t even about Crichton having a medical degree (which, in some ways, is encouraging). That is definitely some of it, but after reading Timeline and hearing of his post-mortem Pirate Latitudes (which I will talk briefly on later), I’ve come to the conclusion that Crichton was just a good researcher. As far as I know, they don’t teach the physics of jousting in Surgery 101. If I remember correctly, I even think Timeline had a bibliography! Instead of relying totally on his imagination to create new worlds, he did his homework to make sure whatever he created was as authentic as possible.
Michael Crichton died of throat cancer. The last book published before his death was Next. After, a not-too-far-from-finished manuscript was found, cleaned up, and made available in bookstores: Pirate Latitudes. I haven’t gotten a chance to read it yet, but I hear although it is not Crichton at his best, it is Crichton to the core. You can expect to come away from the novel knowing more about what it means to be a pirate than should ever be necessary. And thoroughly entertained, too.
I can’t help but feel cheated that the world will never get another Crichton novel, that I will never be able to have my own private lesson on some aspect of the universe I never knew was there.Just like there will never be another Shakespeare, or Michael Jackson, or George Bush, Jr, there will never be another Crichton.
…But there is hope. Remember when i said there was a particular reason for me thinking of him? I’m currently reading Fragment by Warren Fahy. In almost every snippet of review I’ve seen, they’ve compared his debut novel (about an island untouched by the outside world for millions of years where dinosaurs and the like went on a completely different evolutionary path) to the writings of Crichton. And in the acknowledgments section, Fahy lists a few authors, and italicizes Crichton. I like him already.
As for the book, it’s starting to get good, and I already see Fahy’s research coming through. The guy knows what he’s talking about. The jury is still out, but I will keep you all updated.
And here’s your homework: research something. Anything. Small or big. A wikipedia search or a weekend at the library. Then write a short story with two goals: to entertain, and to teach. If you can make it so that the read can’t distinguish between the two, you’ve succeeded. And, of course, share it here on Scribophile.