Michael Crichton (RIP 2008)


Code Monkey
Staff member
One of the genre's most well-known authors, Michael Crichton, died yesterday as a result of cancer.

Crichton is best known for his genre works such as Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and Sphere but he was also the creator of the E.R. television series and tackled subjects such as global warming in his 2004 novel, State of Fear. In addition to writing, he directed well known films such as Westworld and Coma. He also dabbled in electronic entertainment with the games Amazon in the 80's and Timeline in the late 90's.

A trained physician with a medical degree, Crichton stood out amongst his peers with interested in writing, films, television, and social issues. Standing 6'9", he stood out in a crowd as well.

His distinquished career led to several awards such as an Emmy, a Peabody, and for E.R. a Writers Guild of America Award.
Sci-Fi Giant Michael Crichton Dies at 66

Sci-Fi Giant Michael Crichton Dies at 66

Wired said:
Michael Crichton, a Harvard-trained medical doctor who applied his love and knowledge of science to write some of the most iconic sci-fi tales of his generation, died Tuesday of cancer. He was 66 and was battling the illness privately, according to his family.

"Through his books, Michael Crichton served as an inspiration to students of all ages, challenged scientists in many fields, and illuminated the mysteries of the world in a way we could all understand," his family said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

Crichton's greatest success came in the 1990s, when his collaboration with Steven Spielberg produced a series of blockbuster films based on his novel, Jurassic Park, and when he created the hit NBC TV series ER.

But he was writing even as a medical student in the 1960s and, arguably, his most intense work was produced in the 1970s.

Crichton's 1971 Andromeda Strain tapped into a nation's fascination with space travel in the heady days of the Apollo program with the terrifying possibility that a virus would be brought to Earth, mysteriously killing nearly everyone -- except a baby and old man with an ulcer -- in a remote New Mexico town.

Sci-fi fans had already been served countless offerings in the malicious alien genre. But Crichton generated fear and tension by making the villain in his tale benign -- as far as it was concerned -- and suggesting it was our own folly to invite disaster by being scientifically curious.

Crichton would visit that theme again with his triumphant Jurassic Park -- the story of a billionaire entrepreneur who tries to thwart nature and evolution by creating a theme park of genetically engineered dinosaurs. Again, the villain was of our own creation and just doing what nature dictated.

Other Crichton novels turned into films included Westworld and The Terminal Man.

Westworld, brought to the big screen in 1973, starred a perfectly cast Yul Brynner as a robotic gunslinger at a high-tech dude camp where you are always faster on the draw (not) -- but even if you aren't the fastest gun in town it doesn't really matter because there aren't any real six-shooters strapped to anyone's leg (um, not). (As an aside, look for similar scenes in Westworld and Jurassic Park in which victims elude detection by being absolutely still because the predator doesn't see to detect.)

The Terminal Man film, released in 1974, presaged the "out of control computer" theme with a tale of a scientist who agrees to have a microcomputer implanted into his brain in an attempt to quell his violent seizures. The procedure isn't entirely successful. The film, perhaps miscasting George Segal in a rare dramatic role, nevertheless became something of a cult favorite.

But it was with Jurassic Park and his Steven Spielberg collaboration 20 years later that Crichton hit the big time with another tale of science taunted and gone awry with potentially catastrophic effects. The franchise made billions and sealed Crichton's reputation as one of those rare writers who could capture the public's imagination with credible tales employing complex scientific themes that are intellectually honest.

ER -- now in its 13th and final season, an astonishing run for a (mostly) serious, hour-long serialized drama -- was originally intended to be a film, directed by Spielberg. But when the director asked Crichton what he was working on (a story about dinosaurs and DNA), he dropped what he was doing to turn that into Jurassic Park.

In addition to being a prolific novelist, Crichton was an accomplished screenwriter (Extreme Close-Up, Twister) and director (Coma) -- the latter also a scientific cautionary tale by a British MD turned writer, Robin Cooke.

Crichton also had a hand in computer games -- his Amazon, released in 1984, was among the first to add graphics and music to what had been a text-only environment. He wrote the 1983 nonfiction work Electronic Life, which introduced his readers to BASIC -- and also predicted that computer games were a fad that would soon fade. Oops.

Crichton was born in Chicago (where ER takes place) to John Henderson Crichton and Zula Miller Crichton and was raised in New York. He was married five times and divorced four.

As a Harvard undergrad, he became disillusioned with an English professor he thought was giving him unfair grade. Crichton submitted a George Orwell story as his own to test his professor's grading acumen -- and got a B.

Crichton's personal views on the politics of science were controversial: He believed that there was a phenomenon he called "consensus science" that invented or exaggerated the existence or effects of such things as global warming and second-hand smoke.

No less a believer than Al Gore dismissed Crichton, and presumably his 2004 novel State of Fear, by telling a U.S. House committee: "The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor.... If your doctor tells you you need to intervene here, you don't say 'Well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it's not a problem.'"

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(Via Wired)